Hundreds of migrants waded across the Suchiate River into southern Mexico on Monday in a new test of Donald Trump’s Central America strategy to keep migrants away from the US border.
- Riot police attempted to stop the predominantly Honduran migrants from crossing the Suchiate River
- The migrants want free passage across Mexico to the US border
- Mexico has stopped allowing migrants to cross its territory unimpeded after the US threatened sanctions
The Central American migrants moved off the Guatemala-Mexico border bridge and toward the river after Mexican officials told them they would not be granted passage through the country.
On the Mexican side of the river, migrants ran from side to side, kicking up dust on the river bank and looking for an opening in the ranks of National Guard troops sent to meet them.
Guardsmen tried to head off groups and detained people where they could.
Mr Trump has forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico or apply in Central American countries, effectively removing one of the escape valves for previous caravans.
Under threats of trade or other sanctions from the Trump administration, Mexico has stopped an earlier practice of allowing migrants to cross its territory unimpeded.
On Monday, Guardsmen carrying plastic riot shields were hit with rocks tossed by migrants and occasionally threw rocks back into the crowd.
Others carried long staffs and assault rifles.
Many migrants moved back to the river’s edge and a smaller number crossed back to Guatemala.
“You have two options: you go back to Guatemalan territory or you come with us,” Mexican immigration agents said to migrants who had crossed the river.
They assured those who went with them that they would “regularise” their status, but few of the migrants believed them.
“Mexico’s President said he would give us work and an opportunity and look,” said Esther Madrid, a Honduran vendor who left her six children in Honduras.
Riot police with shields also appeared on the Guatemala side of the river, raising questions about what options remained for the migrants.
While a few migrants tried to run through a break in the ranks of Mexican guardsmen, most rested — waiting to see what would happen next.
A 14-year-old girl was carried from the riverbank unconscious. It was unclear what had happened but a guardsman said she had been convulsing.
Free passage rejected by Mexico
The predominantly Honduran migrants want free passage across Mexico to the US border. But Mexico’s Government rejected that on Monday.
While the Government says the migrants are free to enter — and could compete for jobs if they want to stay and work — in practice it has restricted such migrants to the southernmost states while their cases are processed.
Those who do not request asylum or some protective status would likely be detained and deported.
A letter relayed to the migrants on Monday by an official of Mexico’s immigration agency restated the Mexican Government’s position that the migrants would be allowed to enter in orderly fashion, while rejecting free passage.
Edwin Chavez, a 19-year-old from the Honduras capital of Tegucigalpa, said, “By river, that’s the way it will be.”
“There’s no fear,” Mr Chavez said.
“We’re already used to repression. In your country they repress you, they hit you. It’s always like that.”
Earlier, a migrant who refused to give his name stood near the shuttered gates on the bridge over the Suchiate River and read an open letter from the group to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
“We have come peacefully to try to start a dialogue with the government, in order to reach an agreement in which all the members of the caravan will be allowed permission to freely pass through Mexican territory,” he read.
Mexico cracks down on caravan attempts
The Guatemala Government issued new data on Monday showing that 4,000 migrants crossed into the country through the two primary crossings used by the migrants last week, and over the weekend nearly 1,700 entered Mexico at two crossings.
It said 400 were deported from Guatemala.
After two caravans successfully reached the US border in 2018 and early 2019, Mexico began cracking down and in April 2019 the last attempt at a caravan was raided.
As this week’s caravan approached, Mexico sent soldiers to patrol its southern border and monitored the area with drones.
Migrants sometimes travel via caravan because it provides safety in numbers and offers a chance for migrants too poor to pay smugglers.
On Sunday, the Mexican Government issued a statement saying that “in the majority of the cases,” the hundreds of migrants it had received in recent days would be returned to their countries of origin “should the situation merit it.”