Unsung Heroes: Fathers in the Central American Exodus

03 July 2019

A variety of people walking on the left side of the street. Some are carrying luggage, and others are wearing blue JRS vests, assisting those in transit.
JRS Mexico workers aiding asylum seekers. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Benito was the proud owner of a mechanic shop that had established a strong reputation since his late father founded the enterprise decades earlier. In 2018, after constant extortion by local gangs devastated the market for him and his clientele, he closed the shop’s doors. When those same gangs began to stalk him and threaten the physical security of his entire family – most importantly, his wife Graciela and their two children with autism – he knew it was time to flee the country.

As the visibility of the Central American exodus has increasingly entered the global spotlight, reports often have focused on one of two narratives – the plight of the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied minors and single women; or the most numerous, principally young men traveling solo. At JRS Mexico, however, legal and psychosocial teams have accompanied thousands of migrants as they seek to change these narratives from desperation to empowerment, despair to hope.

With the aid of the JRS team in Tapachula, Mexico a growing number of loyal and determined fathers like Benito continue to find aid in their search to provide suitable housing, education, and livelihoods for the families they love and support. Upon the approval of their asylum application, Benito and his family hope to continue northward to either the United States or northern Mexico, where the prospects of meeting their children’s unique needs are greatest.

Earlier this year, during a personal interview with friends of JRS at the Tapachula office, Benito recounted his family’s sojourn at length. He emphasized the love and dedication of his late father – through childhood, adolescence, and the eventual inheritance of the family shop. The paternal devotion he relished as a child has inspired him to continue to honor his own father’s legacy by providing the best future for his own children, no matter how great the personal cost.

Benito is not alone. JRS/USA is appalled by the photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month old daughter Valeria, who perished in their attempt to cross the Rio Grande River in hope of seeking asylum in the U.S. Join us in calling for the safety and security of asylum seekers who must be afforded the protections they rightfully deserve.