Significance: Honduran immigration into the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the 81 percent increase of Hondurans coming into the country during the first decade of the twenty-first century, was the largest of any immigrant group. Their numbers rose fromapproximately 160,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2008.
Until the fourth decade of the twentieth century, U.S. Census data did not count immigrants from individual Central American nations. In any case, the numbers of Hondurans immigrating to the United States before 1930 was small, and even during the decade of the 1930’s, only 679 Hondurans entered the country legally. The numbers of immigrants remained low into the 1960’s, when a significant increase began. During that decade, 15,078 Hondurans were granted legal permanent resident status in the United States. By the last year of the twentieth century, an average of more than 7,100 new immigrants per year were coming from Honduras. The 2000 U.S. Census recorded a total of 282,852 Hondurans living in the United States legally. However, these numbers do not include the large numbers of undocumented immigrants. By the year 2008, it was estimated that nearly 1 million Hondurans resided in the United States. Of that number, as many as 70 percent were estimated to be in the country illegally.
Many of the most recent Honduran immigrants to enter the United States legally have been granted temporary protected status because of the devastation in Central America left by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. That status was extended several times, including an extension to July of 2010; it grants work authorization and protection from deportation but does not assure permanent residency. As many as 80,000 Hondurans came to the United States under temporary protected status.
|Country of origin||Honduras|
|Primary regions of U.S. settlement||California, Washington, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Nebraska|
|Earliest significant arrivals||Early twentieth century|
|Peak immigration period||1980’s-2008|
|Twenty-first century legal residents*||52,534 (6,567 per year)|
*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.
A combination of economic hardship and natural disasters has led to the increase in Honduran immigration. Most Hondurans are small-scale farmers with average income of only $1,700 per year. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was estimated that 59 percent of all Hondurans were living below the poverty line. Approximately 20 percent of adults were illiterate, and 25 percent of the children were chronically malnourished.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.
The 1998 arrival of Hurricane Mitch in Central America proved to be one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit Honduras. The hurricane caused great additional economic hardships in what was already a desperately poor country. Entire fruit fields were destroyed, resulting in the departure of many multinational fruit companies that were important employers. Record amounts of rainfall caused mudslides that wiped out entire villages. Back roads and bridges were destroyed, and as much as 70 to 80 percent of the national transportation infrastructure was ruined. Seven thousand people died, and more than 20 percent of the entire population were left homeless after the hurricane. During the months directly following the hurricane, the U.S. Border Patrol reported a 61 percent increase in captures of Hondurans trying to cross the border into the United States.
Honduran transnational communities strive to maintain ties with their hometowns while creating new homes for themselves in the United States. The flow of migrants has a direct impact on Honduran communities in both countries, creating an exchange of cultures that changes both. Honduran residents of the United States account for 40 percent of all tourism revenue in Honduras.
Many Hondurans work in the United States in order to send remittances to relatives still in Honduras. In 2007, the Honduran foreign ministry reported that $2.8 billion in remittances were sent to Honduras by workers in the United States. Remittances directly affect the receiving families, lifting many of them out of poverty. They also add to the economic disparity in communities, creating a clear distinction between those who receive them and those who do not. However, some observers feel that remittances can create a dependence on charity that does little to improve the economic development of Honduras.
Hondurans who try to travel to the United States to find work face difficult and dangerous journeys that require passing through Guatemala and Mexico. Peril and discomforts include rape, exposure to severe heat in desert areas, long separations from family, robbery, accidents, and even murder. Engaging professional guides known as "coyotes” can cost as much as five thousand dollars. It has been estimated that only 25 percent of the approximately 80,000 Hondurans who have tried to reach the United States each year since 1998 have succeeded.
Many of the Hondurans who have immigrated to the United States have flourished. However, a less positive result of Honduran immigration has been the development of youth gangs. During the 1990’s, the U.S. government targeted undocumented residents in the penal system for deportation. Many of these former criminals were also gang members who recommenced their gangster lifestyle upon return to Honduras, creating transnational ties with gangs in the United States.
Elizabeth Ellen Cramer
See also: El Rescate; Farm and migrant workers; Guatemalan immigrants; History of immigration after 1891; Illegal immigration; Latin American immigrants; Louisiana; Push-pull factors; Salvadoran immigrants; Sanctuary movement; Smuggling of immigrants.