Honduras braces for US deportation of its citizens

Pro-immigration demonstrators participate in a vigil to support children fleeing violence in Central America to come to the United States, during a rally in Washington, DC on November 24, 2014 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb) (AFP/File)

Tegucigalpa (AFP) - Honduras said Monday it was preparing for the return of thousands of its citizens following reports the US was planning a mass deportation of Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty.

The foreign ministry said in a statement it respected the immigration policies of other countries, including that of the United States.

But "up to now the only official information received from the US government is that they are going to return to Honduras people who have a final deportation order, after all legal procedures are concluded."

It added that Honduras expected the United States to conform with human rights standards in deportation cases.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reported last week that President Barack Obama's administration was planning a vast operation to round up and expel migrant families.

Those who had failed to win refugee status and had received deportation notices would be sent to their home countries.

The Department of Homeland Security did not dispute the anonymously sourced reports, which also indicated that the crackdown was imminent.

The issue of immigration is extremely sensitive in the United States, even more so as candidates jostle for the 2016 US presidential elections.

Recently, the number of Central American migrants trying to get into the United States has again increased, following a relative lull this year after a 2014 spike in which 60,000 unaccompanied children made it to the border.

The reported move has, however, drawn criticism.

One of El Salvador's top officials for migration issues has called the decision "regrettable."

"We have been informed about the decision of senior US officials to begin deporting family units and non-accompanied minors," said Liduvina Magarin, deputy minister for Salvadorans abroad.

"It is a regrettable decision by the US government (that affects) our Salvadoran families."

Refugee and rights groups argue that Central Americans from the gang-plagued "Northern Triangle" of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are fleeing violence and corruption.

Aracely Romero, who works for the Center for Returned Migrants that helps Hondurans arriving back home with transport and food, expressed her concern.

"There needs to be a plan to receive them," she told AFP.

She said that this year, around 19,000 Hondurans were sent back, nearly half the 36,461 recorded last year.

More than a million Hondurans live in the United States, sending back $3 billion in remittances that amount to nearly 20 percent of Honduras' gross domestic product.

Following the 2014 "border crisis" of arriving Central Americans, the United States approved a $750-million aid package for the Northern Triangle countries to try to stabilize them and reduce the conditions prompting the migrant exodus.