World / Social Issues

Honduran offered asylum in Guatemala under U.S. deal opts instead for home

AP

The first Central American asylum seeker sent to Guatemala under that country’s “safe third country” agreement with the U.S. has opted to instead return to his home in Honduras.

A tearful Erwin Jose Ardon Montoya arrived Saturday at his parent’s small adobe house in the village of Colon in the poverty- and drought-stricken municipality of Trujillo. He’d refused an offer of asylum in Guatemala, including a job and place to live, choosing to instead be with family rather than alone in another country.

It was a desire for family that drove Ardon Montoya, 23, to set out in the first place two months ago. His daughter was born in the U.S. this year after the mother traveled north while pregnant.

“I wanted to see my daughter, to help her,” he said through sobs, as his parents tried to console him.

The whole extended family greeted him Saturday, with fresh tortillas made by his mother, Maria Elena Montoya. Cousins, uncles, grandparents and siblings packed into the house with a zinc roof, whose walls the family had partially reinforced with concrete blocks until they ran out of money to finish the project.

Ardon Montoya is the oldest of four children, the youngest of whom is only 6. To get by, his mother makes juice that his father, Santos Ardon Bardales, sells to the palm workers in the village. Cutting off the mature fruit of palms, which is later processed into edible oil, pays about $40 a week. The work is seasonal and lately has been interrupted by drought. Still, it’s the main source of income for many in the village.

“If there’s no palm here, there’s no money,” said Juan Rolando Padilla, who cuts palm nuts in the village. Padilla said both production and sales are down of late.

Ardon Montoya was detained by the Border Patrol in El Paso, Texas, and sought asylum in the U.S. But the Trump administration deal with Guatemala led to him being sent there because he’d passed through the country en route to the U.S.

“They asked for all my information, then I spoke with a judge who’d decide if I stay or not. Then they told me to sign a deportation letter,” he recalled.

Ardon Montoya was surprised that the plane he boarded in the U.S. took him to Guatemala, where he said authorities treated him well.

From Guatemala he was flown on Friday to San Pedro Sula, where he spent the night before boarding a bus back to the dusty streets of Colon.

The small green bag he hit the road with months ago is now in tatters, though Ardon Montoya said he still harbors illusions of reaching his daughter in the U.S.

Perhaps next year, after Christmas, he said, he’d try again.