By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALACITY (Reuters) – The first Honduran migrant sent back to Central America under new restrictions pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump expressed sadness and confusion over his circumstances on Friday, resigned for now to his failure to join relatives living in America.
After an arduous trek north, Erwin Ardon, a 23-year-old farm worker from Honduras’ northern coast, spent three days at the U.S. border city of El Paso, Texas.
He was then flown to Guatemala, one of the countries he travelled through to reach Texas, under a Trump-backed agreement designating it as a so-called safe third country for people fleeing persecution.
The deal allows U.S. immigration officials to force migrants requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border to first apply for asylum in countries through which they travelled. Immigrant aid organizations have sued to stop the rule, but the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed it to remain in effect pending trial.
Ardon spoke to Reuters in a hallway at a migrants shelter in the Guatemalan capital prior to leaving in a car provided by the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM). He was returning to his home in Honduras’ Colon department, a dangerous area known to be plagued by drug trafficking, rather than applying for asylum in Guatemala.
“It’s hard because I made it inside (the United States) and then they returned me,” he said in a timid voice, but adding that he was not afraid.
“They say now that they’re not providing asylum, so it didn’t make sense for me at all to stay there … So I had to sign a piece of paper that I didn’t understand.”
Upon reaching the United States, he had hoped relatives would meet him. “Supposedly, they were going to pick me up,” he said, explaining that he waited more than two hours.
“They never came for me.”
Ardon arrived on Friday afternoon at a centre for migrants in Omoa, just across the Guatemala border, according to a source in the Honduran foreign ministry. From there, he was taken home.
Ardon was accompanied by only a few U.S. migration officials on an otherwise empty plane on Thursday, an arrangement criticized as wildly expensive by Guatemalan President-elect Alejandro Giammattei. He takes office in January and has said he will review the deal struck with the Trump administration.
A seasonal palm oil worker who earned as little as 1,000 Honduran lempiras ($40) per week during the three- to four-month harvest, Ardon said he knew he was unlikely to ever win asylum protection in the United States.
“I couldn’t really ask for asylum because I don’t face a real risk, and so I thought it would be better to return to my family,” he said, without going into further details.
Ardon’s experience under the terms of the deal agreed to by Guatemala’s outgoing President Jimmy Morales is likely to be followed by many more Central Americans sent back to the region.
Guatemalan officials say additional flights from the United States carrying migrants are expected next week, but that it was unclear how many will make the trip.
U.S. Democrats and activists say it is irresponsible of Trump’s Republican administration to send vulnerable people to seek shelter in Guatemala, with its high murder rates, tiny asylum system and weak rule of law.
Ardon said upon returning home he would first try to find a new job, but left the door open to other possibilities.
“I’m not sure if I’ll try again,” he said, referring to a future attempt at entering the United States.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Sonya Hepinstall)