As President Barack Obama mulls over ways to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the tens of thousands of children streaming from chaotic Central American nations across the United States-Mexico border, officials in Honduras have charged an elite police unit to help stem the tide of children heading north.
A little more than two weeks ago the Honduran Special Tactical Operations Group arrived at the border town of Aguas Calientes to begin what has been dubbed “Operation Rescue Angels” – a mission to find children heading to the U.S. via the dangerous Central American migrant pipeline.
“These are little angels. They are not conscious of the risks they are taking. We are doing something good,” Commissioner Miguel Martínez Madrid, a Honduran liaison to the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa told the Los Angeles Times. “These are our children. They are the future of our country.”
This police unit was trained by a U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit, known as BORTAC, and is primarily funded by the U.S. State Department. The group’s original intent was drug interdiction – given Honduras' key position in the drug corridor from South America to Mexico and the U.S. – but now the team is working to stop the flow of unaccompanied minors and single parent immigrants traveling with young children.
In Honduras, children are only permitted to travel abroad with authorization from both parents. If they travel with just one, a valid Honduran passport and a notarized document from the absent parent are required.
On a recent day, the Operations Group stopped a busload of people traveling north. They questioned Ana María Ramos, who was traveling with her 2-year old son to flee the violence in the city of San Pedro de Sula – dubbed recently the "murder capital of the world."
"I don't want my boy to grow up in such a violent environment," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't want him to see the violence and learn it. I don't want this for my son."
As the group continues to work along the Honduran border, officials from the U.S., Mexico and the Central American nations began a two-day meeting in Nicaragua on Thursday at which they are expected to discuss the possibility of treating Central American migrants fleeing violence in their homelands as refugees.
Migration and interior department representatives in Managua declined to discuss the meeting's first day.
The agenda focused on updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations that nations have to aid refugees.
Officials with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have said they hope a regional agreement on designating Central Americans migrants as refugees begins to be discussed at the meeting. Such a resolution would lack legal weight, but the agency says it believes "the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation."
The Central American triangle comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has become one of the most violent regions on Earth in recent years, with swaths of all three countries under the control of drug traffickers or street gangs who rob, rape and extort ordinary citizens with impunity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.