Im­mi­grants pause in Mex­ico City

Car­a­van re­groups as it heads north to US

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - David Agren

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 offer from Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto to re­ceive tem­po­rary work visas, health benefits 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 officials from the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tions of El Sal­vador, Gu­atemala and Hon­duras will help re­place iden­tity doc­u­ments and offer 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 offer­ing 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 offset 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 flagged down ve­hi­cles for im­mi­grants on a lonely stretch of high­way cut­ting through cane fields and ba­nana groves, figur­ing mo­torists would trust some­one wear­ing a habit rather than look­ing di­sheveled af­ter weeks on the road. Vil­lagers set up as­sis­tance stands along the route, offer­ing 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

JOSE MENDEZ/EPA-EFE

Im­mi­grants stay at a sports com­plex in Mex­ico City this week. The car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans en­tered Mex­i­can ter­ri­tory Oct. 19.

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