Immigrants pause in Mexico City
Caravan regroups as it heads north to US
CORDOBA, Mexico – Central Americans walking and hitching rides north in a caravan started reaching Mexico City over the weekend, marking another milestone on their winding odyssey toward the U.S. border as Americans vote in an election in which the immigrants became central characters.
The welcome in Mexico’s capital city has been a warm one. The local government turned a sports complex into a shelter to accommodate more than 5,000 weary immigrants, who for three weeks endured sore feet, sickness and downpours and survived on their wits and the generosity of Mexicans of modest means.
Mexico City places the immigrants about 600 miles from the closest U.S. border crossing, in Brownsville, Texas. Denis Omar Contreras, a Honduran who works with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an immigrant advocacy organization accompanying the caravan, said the group will probably head toward the California border, more than 1,700 miles away. That’s the route previous caravans have taken to avoid the cartel-controlled territory in eastern Mexico.
The stop in Mexico City could be a prolonged one as the caravan regroups, members tend to their growing list of medical problems, and legal advocates talk them through their options.
“We’ll have a place to rest up there,” said Darby Flores, 28, a Honduran from the city of La Ceiba on the country’s Caribbean Coast. He hoped that during the group’s stay in Mexico City, “they can provide us with a permit to travel throughout the whole of Mexico.”
According to data released by the Mexican government Nov. 3, 2,793 caravan members accepted an offer from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to receive temporary work visas, health benefits and the chance to enroll their children in school.
That leaves about 5,347 immigrants who refused, saying they want to try their luck in the USA, where they could earn in an hour what they would make working in Central America for a week.
Rodrigo Abeja, a project coordinator with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said consular officials from the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will help replace identity documents and offer assistance. Lawyers will provide legal advice on each person’s options for applying for asylum in Mexico or the USA.
The Mexico City government dispatched teams offering medical and legal assistance. A person participating in the Mexico City assistance program said the idea was to provide caravan participants with incentives to stay put rather than proceed to the border.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras called for an investigation to identify caravan organizers. The two countries have been under intense pressure from President Donald Trump to clamp down on the caravans.
Trump hammered the caravan as a central campaign issue heading into Tuesday’s midterm elections. In recent weeks, he has vowed to cut off aid to Central American nations, threatened to seal the U.S.-Mexican border and deployed more than 7,000 active-duty troops to the border, adding to the 2,000 National Guardsmen and 16,500 Border Patrol agents there.
Over the weekend, he cited the caravan throughout a series of campaign stops in hopes of rallying his political base to offset rosy forecasts for Democrats in the election.
“If Democrats get elected … they want to turn America into a giant sanctuary city for violent predators and ruthless gang members,” Trump told an audience in Pensacola, Florida, on Saturday.
“We will keep the criminals, drug dealers, terrorists the hell out of our country.”
Trump portrayed the caravan as a “national emergency” littered with gang members and violent criminals trying to illegally enter the USA. Most members of the last migrant caravan that arrived at the U.S. border this year legally presented themselves at ports of entry to apply for asylum.
That’s the end goal for many members of the current caravan, which traveled a dangerous stretch through Veracruz over the weekend notorious for crimes committed against immigrants, such as kidnapping and extortion.
A group of nuns assisting the caravan flagged down vehicles for immigrants on a lonely stretch of highway cutting through cane fields and banana groves, figuring motorists would trust someone wearing a habit rather than looking disheveled after weeks on the road. Villagers set up assistance stands along the route, offering food, drinking and clothing to immigrants passing by.
“We can’t complain,” Flores said. “The Mexican people have helped us enormously.”
The caravan splintered a bit over the weekend as some participants preferred to race to Mexico City, – though it is likely to be reunited in the capital, where decisions will be made collectively on its path toward the U.S. border.
“Our goal is to reach the United States, not spend too much time in one place,” said Maria Elena Torres, 45, a Honduras native, as she climbed into a pickup with her 3-old-daughter for the trip to Mexico City. “With God’s help, we’re going to make it.”
Contributing Alan Gomez.
“Our goal is to reach the United States, not spend too much time in one place.” Maria Elena Torres
Immigrants stay at a sports complex in Mexico City this week. The caravan of Central Americans entered Mexican territory Oct. 19.