YORO, Honduras (Reuters) - More than a year after heading to the United States with his son, Jose Caceres is back where he began, barely eking out a living in the fields of wealthier farmers - but without the boy.
Caceres has returned to picking beans and corn in one of the most murderous parts of a country with among the highest homicide rates in the world. He can’t stop thinking about 14-year-old Bryan, now thousands of miles north in the United States.
“It kills you, the depression,” Caceres, now 32, told Reuters, days after returning to his grandmother’s property to live in a nearly-empty cinderblock house with no electricity.
Caceres said he and Bryan had left Yoro with an uncle in the spring of 2018, as violence closed in on the family.
Criminals had killed another uncle in 2011 and raped and beaten Caceres’ 82-year-old great-aunt in 2017, according to Caceres and four of his relatives, who said the violence stemmed from a dispute over land raided by a corrupt politician’s thugs.
In an unrelated case, the corpse of Bryan’s mother – who was not married to Caceres - was found rotting in a septic tank in 2016, according to local press reports.
No one appears to have been convicted in the alleged crimes – not unusual in Honduras, with high rates of impunity compared to other nations.
(For an interactive version see tmsnrt.rs/2VssPY7)
Caceres and Bryan joined the spring caravan last year in Mexico. On May 4, 2018, Jose Caceres said, they surrendered at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to seek asylum in the United States.
Handcuffed, he watched as Bryan was led away. He felt as if he had been punched.
This was during the height of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy - since officially abandoned – in which thousands of migrant children were separated at the border from their parents. Bryan was sent to a detention shelter in Maryland.
Caceres was flagged - mistakenly, documents reviewed by Reuters show - as having pending criminal charges in Honduras.
After he and Bryan were split up, Caceres said, he was interviewed by a U.S. agent, who asked him why he was coming to the United States.
“Because of crime in my country,” he recalled saying.
But you’re a criminal, the U.S. agent replied, according to Caceres.
“And there was nothing more to be done,” Caceres said. The deportation order he signed barred him from entering the United States for five years.
An Interpol agent in Honduras told Reuters that Caceres appeared to have an open criminal case, including a 2008 rape charge. The agent spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The rape charge had been dismissed, according a Honduran court ruling reviewed by Reuters. But that ruling never showed up at Interpol, the agent said.
Melvin Duarte, spokesman for the Supreme Court of Justice in Honduras, said people must personally visit the Attorney’s General office in Tegucigalpa, the capital, with their dismissals to clear their record. That is something Caceres said he did not know to do.
From detention in the United States, Caceres telephoned the Oregon-based Innovation Law Lab, setting off a scramble to help him secure official proof that he was not a criminal, said Law Lab attorney Ian Philabaum.
The resulting watermarked document from the Honduran judicial authority confirms his record is clear “with validity at the national level.” It is dated May 15, 2018 – 10 days after Caceres signed his deportation order in California.
“If I had that paper,” Caceres said, “I would have fought for my son.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Ralph DeSio wrote in an email that the agency could not discuss individual cases because of privacy laws.
DeSio added: “Applicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States.”
Bryan was released after nearly three months in the Maryland shelter to the custody of his grandmother, Rosa Caceres, who had settled in Florida 13 years earlier.
Father’s Day hit him hard, Rosa Caceres said.
“With his father deported and his mother dead,” she said, “he lost the people he’s meant to be with.”
Schrank reported from Yoro, Honduras; San Pedro Sula, Honduras and Tijuana, Mexico; Editing by Julie Marquis and Paul Thomasch