Trump's border wall won't stop us, say would-be migrants

Cattle rancher Jim Chilton stands beside a fence that is the US-Mexico border on part of his 50,000 acre ranch.
Cattle rancher Jim Chilton stands beside a fence that is the US-Mexico border on part of his 50,000 acre ranch.PHOTO: AFP

SAN PEDRO SULA (AFP) - Mr Donald Trump has promised to make America a fortress against immigration by building a wall on the country's southern border.

But as one group of Honduran migrants deported from Mexico vows, no matter what kind of a barrier he builds, "we will still try to get over it."

That was the pledge from 13-year-old Lizbeth Paredes, returned to her country with dozens of others after their failed bid to make it across the US border to the Latin version of the American dream.

The 8th-grade student left Honduras in January together with her 38-year-old mother Gloria and two cousins, aged 10 and 12.

The family had wanted to make it into the United States before Mr Trump takes power, promising to build his wall along the 3,200-kilometre border with Mexico.

But Mexican migration officials caught them riding in a truck in the state of Tabasco and sent them back.

They were among the 88 adults and children who arrived in Honduras's second city of San Pedro Sula by bus on Wednesday (Jan 18).

Although they didn't make this time, Lizbeth insisted - her eyes shining and her hair in a ponytail - they would try again and succeed.

She hoisted her backpack on her shoulders and joined her family entering a centre for migrant children and families.

More than a million Hondurans live in the United States, most of them with no legal residency papers.

They are a vital source of revenue for their country, sending home US$4 billion (S$5.7 billion) in remittances last year - nearly 20 per cent of Honduras's gross domestic product.

Mr Trump's plan for a wall has prompted a flood of Hondurans to leave for America, encouraged by traffickers warning it's better to try now than face greater obstacles later.

Thousands of Central Americans attempt to trek to the United States every year, fleeing vicious gang violence and poverty in their home countries.

Another child, a 15-year-old boy who gave his name as Kevin Flores, also predicted a wall would do little to stem the flow.

"We go because we want a better life, to be someone," the small boy with wavy brown hair said.

It was his mother's idea to try for the United States, he said. After leaving their village of Entrada Copan last Sunday (Jan 8), they, too, were caught by Mexican migration officials.

Ms Aminta Lopez, 41, said she had attempted to make the journey from her home in the capital with her sons, aged five and eight, to flee the ruthless gangs that lord over entire neighbourhoods.

"The idea was to go now because later there will be the wall that will stop people passing through," she said. "But I will have to try again in any case."

Her plan is to make it to the US state of New Jersey, where her brother Israel has been living for 18 years. But that will mean having to successfully dodge the Mexican officials who put an end to her first attempt.

Estimates put the number of people leaving Honduras for the United States every year at between 80,000 and 100,000. Hundreds die on the way, many of them parched in the Mexican desert or murdered by criminal gangs.

They emigrate for lack of work, to study, escape the gangs or be reunited with relatives, humanitarian groups say.

Of the 8.7 million people in Honduras, close to seven out of 10 live in poverty.

The country is one of the most violent on the planet, with a murder rate of 60 per 100,000 inhabitants - more than six times the world average calculated by the World Health Organisation.

The wave of migrant children trying to get into America caught international attention in 2014, when more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America's Northern Triangle countries - Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador - were recorded at the US border.

Mexico deported 10,028 Honduran children last year, many of them travelling with no adult, according to a report by the non-governmental group Casa Alianza.

The group said that 65,475 migrant children from Mexico and the Northern Triangle were detained on the US border between October 2015 and October 2016.

But with no sign conditions at home will improve in the foreseeable future, determination remains undaunted.

"What is there to do?" Lopez says. "We have to go back" and try for America again.