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National Guardsmen close the gates on migrants at the southern border. National Guardsmen prevent migrants from crossing bridge into Mexico.

Some 3,000 migrants form first caravan of year at southern border

Border was closed on Saturday to prevent migrants, mostly Hondurans, from entering the country

The first migrant caravan of 2020 was poised to enter Mexico Monday morning but the federal government was resolved to stop Central Americans from traveling through the country to seek asylum in the United States.

Some 3,000 mainly Honduran migrants arrived at the southern border with Guatemala early on Monday morning to attempt to enter the country and continue their journey northward.

The large contingent of men, women and children said a prayer and sang the Honduran national anthem before crossing the Rodolfo Robles bridge in a human chain to reach the entry point to Mexico in the town of Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas.

A metal barrier and more than 60 members of the National Guard dressed in riot gear met the migrants, preventing them from leaving the Guatemalan border town of Tecún Umán.

The Central Americans sat down on the bridge and said they were prepared to wait until Mexican authorities allowed them to enter, the newspaper Milenio reported.

“We just want them to let us cross, we’re not going to cause problems,” said one migrant identified only as José Antonio.

“We’re trying in the proper way, we don’t want to” cross illegally, he said.

Today’s attempt to cross into Chiapas comes after the National Guard on Saturday slammed shut a metal fence that reads “Welcome to Mexico” as a large contingent of migrants tried to force their way into the country. The border reopened on Sunday but few migrants crossed, the Associated Press reported.

Facing ongoing pressure from the United States government, Mexican authorities are determined to stop migrants from traveling en masse through the country to the northern border, and have said that they will not issue transit visas to allow them to do so.

“The Mexican government has made clear they are not offering any visa that could be used to travel north, and that anyone traveling without proper documentation will be detained, sending a strong signal to the Trump administration that the Mexican government is doing its part to ensure that the members of the caravan don’t reach the U.S. border,” said Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America.

The Mexican government last year deployed the National Guard to stop undocumented migrants from traveling to the northern border after United States President Donald Trump threatened to impose blanket tariffs on Mexican goods if the country didn’t do more to halt arrivals.

A human chain of migrants on the bridge at Ciudad Hidalgo.
A human chain of migrants on the bridge at Ciudad Hidalgo.

While Mexico is resolved to stop them, many of the migrants are equally determined to get to the United States and have indicated that they are prepared to barge their way into Mexico if they are not granted free passage.

“I’m asking President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to allow us free passage, we don’t want to stay in Mexico, our goal is to reach the United States,” 23-year-old Honduran Brayan Pineda told the newspaper El Universal.

As thousands of migrants before him have already said, Pineda explained that he was forced to leave Honduras due to poverty, violence and a lack of support from the government.

“The authorities are not concerned about supporting the talent of young people, buying books and notebooks for schools or medicine for hospitals; they concern themselves with buying weapons and tear gas bombs to repress the people,” he said.

In an attempt to persuade people like Pineda to abandon their plans to seek asylum in the United States, the Mexican government says that it will provide work opportunities to migrants who qualify for asylum.

“We have more than 4,000 jobs available there along the southern border, and of course shelters and medical attention — everything — but on offer is work in our country,” López Obrador said on Friday, stressing that the same opportunities are available to Mexicans looking for work.

The National Immigration Institute and the Secretariat of the Interior said in a joint statement Sunday that 1,087 migrants who entered Mexico legally over the weekend at border crossings in Chiapas and Tabasco were given information about the state-sponsored tree-planting program Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) and the apprenticeship scheme known as “Youths Building the Future.”

However, “in the majority of the cases” migrants would be returned to their countries of origin “should the situation merit it,” the two departments said.

Fearing deportation and a return to the very situation they fled, many migrants are determined not to register with Mexican authorities unless they are promised the same transit visas that the government has issued in the past.

López Obrador has pledged that his government will respect the rights of migrants but has also stressed that he wants to maintain a good relationship with the United States and avoid a trade war with Mexico’s most important commercial partner.

Fulfilling both commitments is proving to be a difficult balancing act for the president, who has come under fire for his government’s increasingly hardline treatment of migrants.

Claudia León, coordinator of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Tapachula, described the roundup of migrants over the weekend with uncertain promises of employment as “de facto detention” that could violate their rights.

In the middle of last year, López Obrador said the government would make it easier for migrants to get jobs in factories on the northern border while waiting for the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States but getting there currently appears nigh on impossible for the members of this year’s first migrant caravan.

Source: El Universal (sp), Notimex (sp), The Associated Press (sp), Milenio (sp) 

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