Fruit, cof­fee do­nated

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - WORLD NEWS - SO­NIA PEREZ D., MARK STEVEN­SON and MARIA VERZA

MEX­ICO CITY — Thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans dream­ing of get­ting to the U.S. awoke Tues­day to do­na­tions of fruit and hot cof­fee at a sports sta­dium in Mex­ico’s chilly cap­i­tal as the U.S. held midterm elec­tions in which U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has made the mi­grant car­a­van a cen­tral is­sue.

Au­thor­i­ties counted more than 2,000 mi­grants at the Je­sus Martinez sta­dium late Mon­day, and a steady flow con­tin­ued into the night. The fa­cil­ity has ca­pac­ity to hold 6,000, of­fi­cials said, and four big tents set up for sleep­ing filled up. Women and chil­dren slept apart from the men—who were rel­e­gated to con­crete bleach­ers—while the city’s cen­tral mar­ket sup­plied 3 tonnes of ba­nanas and guavas to re­fuel the crowd.

Still about 1,000 km from the U.S. bor­der, the mi­grants dozed on thin mat­tresses with blan­kets to ward off the chill in a city some 2,240 me­tres above sea level, a big change af­ter trudg­ing for three weeks in trop­i­cal heat. Tem­per­a­tures dropped below 11 C dur­ing the night.

Nashieli Ramirez, om­buds­man for the lo­cal hu­man rights com­mis­sion, said the city was pre­par­ing to ac­com­mo­date as many as 5,000 peo­ple. The lead car­a­van is es­ti­mated to have about 4,000 par­tic­i­pants and sev­eral smaller groups are trail­ing hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres to the south.

“We have the space in terms of hu­man­i­tar­ian help,” Ramirez said.

Many of the mi­grants sought treat­ment for blis­tered and aching feet, res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions, di­ar­rhea and other mal­adies. City of­fi­cials ad­min­is­tered vac­cines for tetanus and in­fluenza. The Ox­fam char­ity of­fered to do­nate 20 por­ta­ble toi­lets.

Ta­nia Es­co­bar, a nurse with Mex­ico City’s pub­lic health depart­ment, said from a med­i­cal tent that de­mand was high for con­sul­ta­tions. “Since we got here, we have not stopped,” she said.

Melvin Figueroa, a 32-year-old from Tegu­ci­galpa, Hon­duras, was with his preg­nant wife and two chil­dren, aged six and age. He took the six-year-old girl to the tent be­cause her eyes were ir­ri­tated and “she throws up ev­ery­thing she eats.”

More mi­grants were trudg­ing along the high­way be­tween the city of Pue­bla and the cap­i­tal, try­ing to hitch rides from pass­ing ve­hi­cles.

Trump has seized on the car­a­van and por­trayed it as a ma­jor threat, though such car­a­vans have sprung up reg­u­larly over the years and largely passed un­no­ticed.

He or­dered thou­sands of troops to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, threat­ened to de­tain asy­lum seek­ers in tent cities and in­sin­u­ated with­out proof that there are crim­i­nals or even ter­ror­ists in the group.

In dozens of in­ter­views since the ini­tial car­a­van set out from Hon­duras more than three weeks ago, mi­grants have said they are es­cap­ing poverty and ram­pant vi­o­lence. Many are fam­i­lies trav­el­ling with small chil­dren. Some say they left be­cause they were threat­ened by gang mem­bers or had lost rel­a­tives to gang vi­o­lence. Oth­ers say they hope to work, se­cure a good ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren and send money to sup­port rel­a­tives back home.

Upon ar­rival in Mex­ico City, some mi­grants vis­ited the Basil­ica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a ma­jor pil­grim­age site, to thank the Vir­gin Mary for watch­ing over them dur­ing the jour­ney.

AL­FREDO ESTRELLA/GETTY IM­AGES A Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grant is seen dur­ing a stop at a tem­po­rary shel­ter in a sports cen­tre in Mex­ico City, Mex­ico, where they ex­pect to ask for a per­mit to con­tinue trav­el­ling through Mex­i­can ter­ri­tory, on Tues­day.

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