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Valley businessman from Honduras weighs in on migrant caravan

Posted at 8:06 PM, Nov 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-01 23:11:21-04

President Trump is doubling down on the Central American migrants making the dangerous trek to the border, looking to send nearly three times as many troops fighting in the Middle East to stop the caravan of an estimated 4,000 people, which the U.N. now estimates nearly 2,000 of them are children.

"I feel sorry for my fellow countrymen who see children who are risking their lives to find a better life," said Tony Banegas.  

Banegas served as the Consul of Honduras from 2006 to 2016. He came to the states in the 80's to go to college at Arizona State University. Born in Honduras, Banegas worked with underprivileged communities there.

Now, he works with families and children as President and CEO of Children First helping raise money for underprivileged children in Phoenix to provide them with the resources they need to succeed.  

Banegas spent 13 years as an executive working with large non-profits working with child-welfare projects across Phoenix. Apart from his work here, he also travels to Honduras yearly to work on projects that improve the quality of life for people there.

"I know my country well, so I support a lot of projects, water projects, health projects, education projects, garbage trucks in my hometown," he says. "Things are much better in Honduras, we're not the most violent country in the world anymore."

While conditions are improving he says, the unemployment rate is near 20 percent and 60 percent of the population live in poverty. The migrants joining the caravans are the poorest of the poor, he says, looking for a better life with nothing left to lose. But, he says these people are being exploited by their home countries. Being promised something in America they can't achieve.

"There have been documented cases where the opposition party from the government right now are trying to support and encourage these people even with money to come," he said.  

Banegas added that criminals have been known to infiltrate the caravan, but those are rare and do not reflect the majority of the people who are making the journey.

"We apprehended, not long ago, a lot of Chinese and Africans in Honduras trying to make the way to the U.S. so it's a busy road so to speak. So you find all kinds of people and characters, always been risky you have all kinds of criminals they're trying to rape and take whatever you have so there's a lot of people there and again they're not just from Honduras you have people from Guatemala, El Salvador other countries, but again the great majority of honest people trying to find a better life," Banegas says. "There are criminals everywhere but that's not the great majority of them."

Banegas says the president's rhetoric isn't helping and he's playing on the fears of many to win elections.

"It's unfortunate because it's being used right in the middle of the election to sway some people so it's not true," Banegas said.

He says the president can't change asylum laws as they are protected by the Geneva Convention, the U.N. and several international treaties. Banegas also believes the promise of sending nearly 15,000 troops to the border is fruitless.

'They don't have the authority to arrest. That's the duty of the border patrol...It's playing politics again if you wanna fight terrorist send them to fight ISIS, there are less than 5,000 troops fighting ISIS that's the biggest threat to this country and the world. Send them there," he says. 

He says most of these migrants are being manipulated into thinking they need to make the journey to the United States when in reality they should try to seek asylum from right inside their home country. 

"Let's work there with what we have there. We have in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador we have a plan for progress that was approved under the Obama Administration to work with those countries right there," he said. "I know that it's true that people play with fear and hunger when you have nothing to lose and someone comes to you and say, 'let's go we'll cover your expenses and we go as a group and we have a chance to get in,' they have nothing to lose. I know because I've dealt with over ten years as an Honorary Consul."