The Arizona Republic
Caravan vows to press on
About 1,000 Central American migrants on a desperate trek to reach the U.S. are stuck on Mexico’s southern border, but many remain undaunted.
About 1,000 Central American migrants on a desperate trek to reach the U.S. remained stuck Saturday on Mexico’s southern border as authorities refused to let the group cross en masse, but many remained undaunted.
The migrants, who say they are escaping poverty, poor working conditions and violence, slept overnight on a bridge over the Suchiate River with no fresh supplies of water or food and without bathrooms, eyewitnesses said.
Some in the caravan — which is mostly people from Honduras — broke through a border crossing with Guatemala on Friday where they were met with a wall of Mexican and Guatemalan law enforcement officers who unleashed pepper spray, forcing the migrants to retreat onto the bridge.
The caravan once numbered about 3,000 people, but by Saturday about a third were left. Hundreds of migrants appeared to have already crossed — some perhaps illegally. Others who were camped out on the bridge left to go a nearby Guatemalan town for food. It was unclear whether any had returned home to Honduras.
As workers began erecting tall steel riot barriers on the bridge, Mexican officials said they would hand out numbers to those waiting to cross and allow them to enter in small groups — but not all together.
The migrants who remained vowed to press forward.
Jose Yanez, a 25-year-old farmer who said he made about $6 a day, woke early with a backache after a chilly night on the bridge. “From here, we’re going on. From here, there’s no turning back,” he said.
The group was on an early leg of a 1,100-mile journey to the U.S. border that President Donald Trump has made a key argument for his immigration policies in rallies leading into the midterm elections.
Trump referenced the issue in a Saturday morning tweet deriding Democrats, saying an immigration solution was still possible: “If the Democrats would stop being obstructionists and come together, we could write up and agree to new immigration laws in less than one hour. Look at the needless pain and suffering that they are causing. Look at the horrors taking place on the Border.”
Trump has threatened to cut off aid to Central America and close the southern border with Mexico if their respective governments failed to deal with the situation.
The Mexican Interior Ministry said it has received 640 asylum claims — 164 from women, including pregnant women, and 104 from children under 17.
On Friday, women holding small children stood en masse at the front of the border gate, begging Mexican police to let them through.
“Please ... Let us pass,” pleaded Alba Luz Giron Ramirez, a former shop employee and mother of three. She said her family had come from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and that gangs had killed her brother and threatened her.
“We want them to give us permission to go to Mexico,” her son Ramon, 5, said quietly. “We wouldn’t stay.”
Alison Danisa cried as she knelt in trash piling up on the bridge, clutching her naked 11-month-old infant to her breast. “We have suffered so much. She has a fever and we brought nothing.”
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said in an address to the nation late Friday night that a large group of migrants had “tried to enter Mexican territory irregularly, attacking and even hurting some elements of the federal police.”
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez also tweeted late Friday that he spoke with his Guatemalan counterpart, Jimmy Morales, and asked permission to send Honduran civil protection personnel to the bridge to help the migrants.
Selvin Flores, a 35-year-old shopkeeper from the Honduran city of Nacaome, said people who “were causing disorder” have been expelled from the group and handed over to Guatemalan police.
Flores said he skips meals so his three children can eat and hoped to make some money in the U.S. before returning to Honduras.
The migrants, he said, “do not want misunderstandings.”
Even though the U.S. is the goal for most people in the group, some said Saturday that they would apply for any kind of refugee status in Mexico.
Scarleth Cruz, 21, said she was fleeing repression in Honduras but would accept political asylum in Mexico. “Why would I want to go to the United States if I’m going to be persecuted” there as well, she said.