As migrants’ caravan No. 1 prepares to travel through Oaxaca, caravan No. 2 is knocking on Mexico’s door on the Guatemala border at Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, where 2,500 people are pleading for passage to the United States.
Citizens from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who converged on Tecún Umán yesterday swarmed to the bridge that crosses the river between the two countries this morning and launched an assault on a Guatemala police barricade.
Police used tear gas in retaliation but the migrants returned fire with whatever objects came to hand and the former withdrew. The crowd broke through the barricade and headed for the Mexican side where another barricade was being guarded by the Federal Police.
From the bridge the Central American citizens asked Mexican officials to give them temporary permission to enter the country and travel north.
But immigration officials insisted they enter by the rules so as to be processed by agents. By mid-afternoon today, some 300 had been permitted entry.
Immigration agents assured that none would be deported but they must apply for refugee status.
But some called out they didn’t want refuge because they didn’t want to remain in Mexico.
Meanwhile, more are on the way.
Another 500 migrants left El Salvador this morning while other smaller groups of up to 10 people have been leaving Honduras over the past two weeks, said a spokeswoman with a non-governmental organization in Esquipulas, Guatemala.
The first caravan, which entered Mexico October 19, arrived yesterday in San Pedro Tapanatepec, a town in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, where they remained today. Tomorrow they plan to continue their march to the U.S. border, with a stop in Mexico City, where caravan organizers have indicated the migrants wish to meet with the Senate.
The group encountered a delay in their northward trek yesterday morning.
The caravan left Arriaga, Chiapas, at around 3:00am but was stopped by about 200 officers from the Federal Police’s National Gendarmerie division at the border between Oaxaca and Chiapas.
Police said at a meeting facilitated by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) that the caravan was halted to give authorities an opportunity to explain a proposal to the migrants announced yesterday by the federal government.
In a video message posted to social media, President Peña Nieto announced a plan called “Estás en tu Casa” (You are at Home), offering shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to the Central American migrants on the condition that they formally apply for refugee status with the National Immigration Institute (INM) and remain in either Chiapas or Oaxaca.
Gendarmerie chief Benjamín Grajeda Regalado said the aim of the police operation was not to arrest anyone but rather to persuade migrants to take up the offer.
“It’s not about detaining anyone . . . Our instruction is to close the highway, offer the program to them and wait for those who want to join it,” he said.
But the migrants argued that the middle of the highway was not an appropriate place to negotiate, saying they wanted to arrive in Mexico City to hold discussions with federal authorities and lawmakers.
Irineo Mujica, a coordinator for the migrant advocacy group Pueblos Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), said the incoming government needed to be involved in any offer on the table.
“This government is on the way out, it’s got a month left, the one that has to deliver is the other one. What is the position of the new government? That’s the one responsible for what happens to these people.”
While some migrants have indicated they would be prepared to stay in Mexico if they can find employment, the goal for most remains asylum in the United States.
“Our destination is the border,” said Orbelina Orellana, a Honduran migrant traveling with her husband and three children.
She added that she was suspicious of the government’s proposal, claiming that migrants who had applied for legal status in Mexico had already been returned to their home countries.
Four hours after they were stopped, the caravan’s members declined the government’s offer and resumed their march.
The halt came after one of the caravan’s longest journeys. Walking or hitching rides on trucks, the migrants traveled around 100 kilometers to the city of Arriaga from Pijijiapan the day before.
Despite the long journey, most were boisterous Friday night, buoyed by their refusal to accept anything less than a safe path through to the United States’ southern border.
Sitting in the Arriaga central plaza, 58-year-old Óscar Sosa of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, endorsed the decision.
“Our goal is not to remain in Mexico,” he said. “Our goal is to make it to the [U.S.]. We want passage, that’s all.”
The caravan is still about 1,600 kilometers from the nearest border crossing between Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and McAllen, Texas.
Despite the long distance still left to travel and the likelihood that it will break up as it continues to head north, United States President Trump has used it as a rallying point on the issue of illegal immigration in the lead-up to the U.S. midterm elections, now just 10 days away.
Earlier this week he said that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the migrants, a claim that reporters and migrant advocates traveling with the caravan have said is untrue.
The United States Department of Defense yesterday approved a request for additional troops to be deployed at the U.S. southern border, likely to total several hundred, to help secure it.
In addition to this morning’s blockade, Mexican police are also removing migrant passengers from buses, enforcing an obscure road insurance regulation.
Authorities were also cracking down yesterday on smaller groups of migrants trying to catch up with the main caravan. Around 300 Hondurans and Guatemalans were detained after crossing the Mexican border illegally, an immigration official said.
Mujica accused immigration agents of harassment and urged migrants to stick together.
“They are terrorizing us,” he said.
Estimates of the size of the caravan vary but a British photographer following the story told Mexico News Daily that it was probably about 7,500. Alex Harrison-Cripps also said most of the travelers were catching rides aboard trucks of various sizes as well as buses and that few were actually walking the entire distance between towns.