Sanctuary City San Francisco Is Fueling Property Boom in Honduras

A small farming community north of Honduras’ capital city Tegucigalpa is undergoing a construction boom thanks to large influxes of cash from San Francisco – where many of the local young men have set up a thriving drug market.

The town of El Pedernal is now flush with gaudy mansions emblazoned with the San Francisco 49ers logo, and homages to the California city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

One photo seen by shows a man posing outside an impressive home with an imposing metal security fence, complete with a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge incorporated in its metal work.

There’s no suggestion that man or the property itself is linked to criminal behavior – but locals say many of the fancy new homes springing up in El Pedernal are being purchased with ill-gotten gains sent home from the City by the Bay.

Some of the dealers working in the Californian city told The San Francisco Chronicle, which spent 18 months researching the town, that they earned $350,000 a year, and that San Francisco’s policies as a sanctuary city made it an appealing destination.

That’s because there’s little risk of deportation if they’re caught and convicted of drug dealing – with San Francisco also known among dealers for handing out light sentences if they do get caught dealing.

El Pedernal used to be a sleepy agricultural town of 1,600 people: now, construction is a prime industry, with workers earning $35 a day – four times what a farmer makes.

One teacher in El Pedernal told the paper he has stopped teaching and become a full-time metal artist, creating customized replicas of Bay Area sports team for the new houses.

Oscar Estrada, a Honduran author who wrote a book on drug trafficking’s impact on the country, said the ostentatious design was new to the area, and an echo of classic Colombian ‘Narco houses’.

‘I have seen from, probably the ’90s, this remittance architecture, which was very obvious and they have this very clear design and usually is related with aspirations of the immigrants to the United States,’ said Estrada.

‘But this is not that. It looks more like a typical Narco house. The one you see in places like Colombia, you see the kind of architecture totally over the top of the community. That’s very clear.’

One veteran San Francisco dealer, returning to El Pedernal for a vacation, told the Chronicle that the three-bedroom home occupied by his wife and children cost him $150,000, which he had earned in five good months of drug sales in the Tenderloin district.

He said the scale of construction around his own home in El Pedernal was impressive.

‘A little boy, 17 years old, he built this house,’ the dealer said, pointing to a mansion under construction.

‘You open the door — beautiful.’

The vast majority of Hondurans who cross illegally into the United States find work in areas other than drug dealing.

For the 12 months ended in September 2022, U.S. immigration officials encountered more than half a million people from this region at the Southwest land border, including 213,023 Hondurans, according to data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The figure amounts to about 2 percent of the country’s population of 10 million.

But in San Francisco, more than 200 Honduran migrants have been charged with drug dealing since 2022, the paper reported – a figure which massively downplays the true scale of the network.

The number does not include Honduran dealers who were convicted in previous cases or others who have never been arrested.

The majority come from the Siria Valley, according to multiple dealers and court records obtained by the paper.

Many of those involved come from the same extended families and grew up together.

An analysis by the newspaper found that, of the 130 defendants who could be confirmed as Hondurans, 60 showed a specific city, town or region: of those, 51 were from the Francisco Morazan region, which includes the valley, with high concentrations in the villages of El Pedernal and Orica.

Wade Shannon, who ran the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Francisco office before his recent retirement, told the paper that the Hondurans are the street-level dealers, selling narcotics from Mexico – particularly fentanyl.

The drugs are produced by the Sinaloa Cartel, previously headed by Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, and the upstart Jalisco New Generation Cartel: their operatives then transport them up the West Coast.

A retired police officer told The Chronicle that the Hondurans have been involved in drug trafficking in the Tenderloin district for 35 years, but have recently risen to control the open-air drug markets in the famously progressive city.

Only six percent of people charged with drug-sale crimes in San Francisco from 2018 to 2022 have so far been convicted on a drug charge.

Sentences ranged from one day to three years, with an average of 168 days, records show.

The paper found that the most common charges used in drug-sale plea agreements are for accessory and accessory after the fact, which carried an average sentence of 38 days in jail.

And San Francisco’s policies meant that the dealers had little cause to fear deportation.

The city jail does not allow ICE to pick up undocumented people upon release, so they can be deported.

The only way most dealers face deportation is if they are arrested on federal charges or in another city.

One dealer told the paper that the policies made San Francisco the dealing city of choice.

‘The reason is because, in San Francisco, it’s like you’re here in Honduras,’ he said.

‘The law, because they don’t deport, that’s the problem. Many look for San Francisco because it’s a sanctuary city. You go to jail and you come out.’