A caravan of some 5,000 migrants left the southern city of Tapachula, Chiapas, on Monday, beginning a journey through Mexico that they hope will take them all the way to the northern border and into the United States.
Migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba made up the bulk of the large group, according to the newspaper La Jornada. They intend to travel to the northern border and seek asylum in the United States, El Universal reported.
The migrants set off from a park in Tapachula at about 6 a.m. and planned to walk about 15 kilometers to the town of Álvaro Obregón. On Tuesday, they hope to get to Huehuetán, the administrative center of the municipality of the same name.
The Mexico-United States border at Matamoros, Tamaulipas, is over 1,600 kilometers from Huehuetán, while Tijuana, Baja California is almost 4,000 kilometers away.
Migrants typically walk, hitch rides on trucks and jump aboard freight trains to achieve their goal of getting to Mexican border cities.
The journey is a dangerous one. Migrants are frequently preyed upon by criminal groups, whose members have been known to forcibly recruit men and rape women. Traveling in a large caravan might make the trip safer, but such groups typically break up as they move through the country.
Countless migrants have been detected by authorities traveling in hot and cramped conditions inside tractor-trailers, while many have been killed in highway accidents. Other migrants have died or sustained serious injuries after falling from freight trains collectively known as La Bestía (the Beast).
Irineo Mújica of the immigration rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders) said that the migrants who departed Tapachula on Monday morning sent a letter to National Migration Institute (INM) director Francisco Garduño to ask for permits that would allow them to travel legally through Mexico to the border. But they didn’t get a response, Mújica said.
He said that the migrants decided to begin their northward journey as there are no jobs in Tapachula and getting documents from the INM and the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) can take as long as a year.
A lot of migrants are forced to live on the streets in Tapachula, Mújica said, explaining that rents and food are both expensive.
Carlos Eduardo Martínez, a Honduran, told La Jornada he decided to join the migrant caravan because he couldn’t find a job in Tapachula and his appointment with COMAR was three months away.
“I couldn’t keep waiting without money, sleeping on the street, it’s not life,” he said.
“We’re better off making our way up [north] and hoping that the government helps, doesn’t stop us,” Martínez said.
The caravan passed through a migration checkpoint manned by National Guard troops in the community of Viva México “without any restriction,” Milenio reported.
José Alberto María said he decided to leave Guatemala because he was a victim of extortion while working as an assistant on public buses. He said he was forced to pay around 500 quetzales (about US $64) per week to members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, leaving him with just 200 or 300 quetzales to cover the expenses of his five-person family.
El Universal reported that there are a large number of families, including babies and young children, among the members of the caravan, which was accompanied by police cars and ambulances.
Huge numbers of migrants have traveled through Mexico to the United States over the past year as factors such as crime, poverty and political problems push people out of multiple Central American, South American and Caribbean countries.
President López Obrador hosted a regional migration summit in Chiapas on Oct. 22, after which the governments of 10 countries agreed to draw up “an action plan for development … to attend to the structural causes of irregular migration in the region.”