Central American offered asylum in Guatemala opts for home

The first Central American asylum seeker sent to Guatemala under that country's "safe third country" agreement with the U.S., Erwin Jose Ardon, center, is welcomed home by his father Santos Ardon, in Colon, Honduras, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Erwin opted to return to his home in Honduras but said he hopes to perhaps set out again next year for the U.S., where his daughter was born seven months ago. (AP Photo/ Elmer Martinez)

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 José Ardón Montoya arrived Saturday at his parents’ small adobe house in the village of Colón in the poverty- and drought-stricken municipality of Trujillo. He 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 Ardón 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, María 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.

Ardón Montoya is the oldest of four children, the youngest of which is only 6. To get by, his mother makes juice that his father, Santos Ardón 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.

Ardón Montoya had left Honduras Sept. 23 with a group of friends and the equivalent of $243 in his pocket. He was detained by the Border Patrol in El Paso, Texas, and applied for asylum in the U.S. But the Trump administration’s deal with Guatemala led to him being sent there because he passed through that 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.

Ardón 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 Colón.

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

Perhaps after Christmas, he said, he might try again.

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