Eyewitness News travels to Honduras to understand reasons migrants run to US

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (KTRK) -- As our plane glided into Tegucigalpa Airport, the passengers burst into applause.

"They do this every day," remarked a flight attendant, who says the inherent danger of navigating between mountains to the Honduran capital always makes for a rough landing.

But if landing a plane was dangerous, it's no comparison to what we found outside the airport.

We had come to Honduras to get a first-hand look into why so many families risk everything to try to make it to the United States.

From the capital, we began our journey to the southern city of Choluteca. The narrow and winding roads made for slow driving.

Along the stunningly lush landscape, there are inescapable signs of poverty. The two-lane highway - if it can be called that - are dotted with shacks along the road. Sometimes there would be fruit stands. Other times, the shacks are empty, which locals told us is a sign that a family most likely fled for a safer life elsewhere.

Some three hours later, we arrive in Choluteca, but to get to where we were going, it would be another 30 minutes, up a mountain, with few street signs, until we arrived at the village of Orocuina. Cows, mopeds, and cars share the road here.

After a few minutes on a dirt path, we reached the home of Jose Flores Portillo, who had been expecting us.

"It's been difficult," he said in Spanish, as he ponders the future of his relatives in U.S. detention. "Melissa Flores, my niece, she left May 18 with her daughter, hoping to be reunited with her mom and two sisters in Houston."

Melissa Flores and her 5-year-old daughter Dana never made it to Houston. They were detained at the border in late May, separated, and have not seen any relatives since.

"The little girl has never been separated from her mom," Portillo said. "The situation is so difficult and devastating."

Portillo and his family are not alone. Just across the dirt path, Evelia Gonzalez cries softly in her niece Esly Nunez's bedroom. The pink room is decorated with pictures of the little girl growing up, going to school, and recently graduating. The future looked bright, but gangs constantly wanted her to join.

In early May, the 17-year-old and her father set out for America. They were also separated and detained. Family members say they don't know where the father is being held. They believe the teenager is being held at a detention facility in Conroe.

"They decided that the risk getting detained is better than staying here," said Aunt Evelia Gonzalez. "They were going to shoot her."

The stories of these two neighbors are heartbreaking, but not unusual. A drive down the streets of Orocuina illustrates why so many Hondurans flee. The houses are dotted with bulletholes. Young men hang out at street corners, waiting for the sun to set.

We were told by multiple people to leave town before sunset, because it would be dangerous in the evening. The streets are remarkably desolate after 6 p.m.

None of this surprises Jose Guadalupe Rueles.

"The violence, poverty, lack of opportunities, and corruption are the biggest causes that people leave," he says.

Rueles is the Honduras director for Covenant House, a multi-national nonprofit that works with homeless children. Rueles says there are about 8,000 homeless children in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. The children are homeless because either their parents were killed, left for other countries, or they were so poor that the kids leave just to get enough to eat.

"The government sees military, more police, as the solution to solving the gang violence," says Rueles. "But, that's not the case. We need more social help."

Rueles says the situation is so bad, especially for the working poor, they simply find few options better than going elsewhere to look for jobs and safety.

Not everyone, though, leaves.

"Necessities. We always have necessities. We can survive," said Jose Jimenez, a construction worker we met while he cradled his baby daughter.

Jimenez and his wife are raising two girls in what is barely more than a shack. We had to walk through neighbors hanging laundry to get to his home, which is a single room with a roof made of tin and a wooden divider. All four family members share one bed. There is no indoor plumbing, and the kitchen is just a hot plate on the table. Yet, they don't plan on leaving.

"We have what we need," Jimenez said. "I've heard it's dangerous to go, so we stay."

Indeed, if Hondurans' efforts to go to America is unsuccessful, the life back home will be worse.

Flight attendants tell us almost every day, someone is being deported on one of its flights. We saw one woman, with tears in her eyes, on the very same flight we traveled. She had been brought on the plane by U.S. immigration officials.

"Yes, it's very, very difficult, because the stigma is very big," said Rueles. "People in Honduras think if you get deported, you were a criminal of some sort."

He says situations for deportees are generally worse than before they left.

That brings us back to Melissa Flores and her daughter Dana. Early in July, we were informed the little girl was held in San Antonio, and her mother in New Mexico. Family members in Honduras and Houston fought for the two's releases. On July 23, after eight weeks of separation, the mother and daughter were reunited in El Paso. The pair then arrived in Houston, where Melissa's mother was waiting to welcome them with open arms.

Now safe with family, Melissa will have to fight to stay in the country. She has already been outfitted with an ankle monitor, and she is also looking forward to an asylum hearing, even though success is not guaranteed.

Was it all worth it? The detention, the separation, for a chance to live in America? For some, the answer still remains yes, but others believe it's no longer worth the risk.

SPECIAL INTERACTIVE: WHY THEY RUN: Eyewitness News travels to Honduras

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