Devin Thorpe: Let’s help Central Americans where they live

(Oliver de Ros | AP file photo) A hooded agronomy student protests outside a hotel in Guatemala City where lawmakers were July 31, 2019, to vote on a deal that Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' government signed with Washington that would force Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States.

The border crisis may be partially one of President Trump’s own making. He’s constantly complaining about how easy it is to gain asylum and threatening to build a wall and close the border.

That dual narrative is understood in Central America as, “Come now, before it’s too late,” increasing the flow of migrants to the United States in recent months. What is constant is the danger and misery of living in Central America.

It is hard for Utahns to comprehend the level of violence and corruption — not to mention poverty — that Central Americans face.

For instance, in 2009, the Honduran chief of police ordered the assassination of the country’s chief drug enforcement officer, retired general Julián Arístides. A Honduran newspaper learned the truth and ran the story in 2016 and The New York Times picked it up.

In Honduras, I met Tatiana Redondo, a woman who had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santiago, Chile. She said that before she served her mission in 2010-11, she could walk the streets without fear but, upon her return, her family warned her about the new realities of living in her own neighborhood. She said she’d carried only her hymnal with her to attend church that Sunday morning, to avoid becoming a target for a mugging.

Rother Corea, an executive at Tegu, a toy manufacturer based in Honduras, reported that all his employees had been mugged at one time or another and that a lack of safety was simply the country’s biggest problem.

As a guest of Utah-based CHOICE Humanitarian on a service expedition to Guatemala, I visited with a police officer assigned to us who reported that he was so poorly equipped by the government that he had to buy his own bullets.

Similarly poor funding in Honduras likely contributed to the corruption there.

As a result of The Times’ story about the assassination, a nonprofit called the Association for a More Just Society (AJS), was tapped by the Honduran government to help the police department purge 5,000 cops. They’ve since been replaced by 10,000 new recruits.

Wherever I went in Central America, I found a common theme. Virtually everyone knows someone who fled to the United States. The first person I met in Honduras — the taxi driver in Tegucigalpa — said he’d been deported from the U.S. twice, most recently just three weeks earlier.

Life in Central America is challenging but there are good people working to make things better. People leave because they have lost hope in things improving. We can help ease the border crisis by helping people stay in their countries. All that most need to be convinced to stay is a glimmer of hope.

Organizations like CHOICE are working to address extreme poverty in Central America. You can join an expedition and not only help people but also to see firsthand how people live there.

Or just visit Central America on vacation. There are spectacular things to see and do. Tip generously and be kind to those who serve you; chances are they live just a rung or two up the economic ladder from extreme poverty.

You can also support AJS in its work to fight corruption and violence in Honduras. Having helped to halve the country’s infamously high homicide rate over the past seven years, it is now working with eight different government ministries to measure compliance with anti-corruption best practices.

There is no shortage of opportunities for doing good and making a difference in Central America. Just Google organizations doing work you’d support in Central America.

Regardless of which side of the border debate you’re on, don’t forget the underlying cause. Life in Central America is dangerous for everyone and undeniably miserable for those living in or near extreme poverty. And we can do something about that right now — no matter what Mr. Trump says.

Devin Thorpe

Devin Thorpe, Salt Lake City, is the founder of the Your Mark on the World Center, author of “Your Mark on the World” and is a regular Forbes contributor.