The Mexico–United States border is an international border separating Mexico and the United States, extending from the Pacific Ocean to the west and Gulf of Mexico to the east. The border traverses a variety of terrains, ranging from major urban areas to uninhabitable deserts
The caravan of migrants, many of whom are fleeing poverty and violence at home, could fuel a fresh political rift between President Trump and the Mexican government just two weeks before U.S. midterm elections.
Mr. Trump said Monday that he had alerted the U.S. Border Patrol and the military about the caravan of migrants heading for the southern border—which he called a national emergency. He criticized El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico for not stopping the group or otherwise curbing the flow of migrants.
The president said the U.S. would begin “cutting off, or substantially reducing” foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
President Donald Trump said he intends to deploy troops along the U.S.-Mexico border until a wall is built there, proposing an escalation of efforts to prevent people from entering the country illegally via the southern border.
The move would ramp up Trump’s battle over immigration, after he ran into hurdles carrying out his campaign-trail promise to build a wall at Mexico’s expense. Most recently, he has been preoccupied with a caravan of migrants, mostly from Honduras, making their way north through Mexico toward the U.S.
“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That’s a big step,” Trump said Tuesday during a session at the White House with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. “We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing and, by the way, never showing up for court.”
His tweets came days after he threatened to deploy the military and close the southern border if Mexico didn’t stop what he called an onslaught of Latin American migrants passing through its country from reaching the U.S.
Mr. Trump also called for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws. “Must change laws!” he tweeted Monday. “Remember the Midterms!”
On Friday and Saturday, Mexican border officials refused to let the caravan enter the country, saying they would allow only about 150 people in at a time to apply for asylum. Mr. Trump praised Mexico’s efforts at stopping the caravan from heading to the U.S. border.
But the caravan then broke apart in different groups: At least several hundred people returned in buses to Honduras, not wanting to make an illegal journey. Another large chunk stayed at the border and will wait to ask Mexico for asylum. But a third group decided to cross the river illegally, using rafts manned by human smugglers.
By Sunday morning, a large part of the caravan had regrouped and was heading north, toward the city of Tapachula, some 19 miles away, in the Mexican southern state of Chiapas.
Migrant Caravan Heads Toward Mexico’s Southern Border
The long line of migrants, who occupied half of the road, stretched far away in the distance. Many children were with the caravan, some of them carried on shoulders.
“We are on the road again!” said Felisberto Villatoro, 21 years old, who said he left Tegucigalpa, Honduras’s capital, because he earned too little as a construction worker and couldn’t make a living.
Along the way, local residents, Catholic and evangelical churches and authorities distributed water, food and baby diapers to the crowd.
At one point, the caravan passed through the small village of Zaragoza, with low houses and hens walking in the streets.
“Good luck! Good luck!” some Mexicans shouted as the migrants passed.
The Honduran migrants smiled and waved at the Mexicans. “We thank Mexico. It seems we are the poorest among the poor,” said one of the Hondurans.
By Sunday afternoon, the first contingents of migrants arrived in Tapachula after a 9-hour walk in the heat. Many arrived dehydrated, with ulcers and calluses on their feet. They began to gather at the city’s main square.
The caravan plans to camp in Tapachula for some days, and then members of the caravan will decide whether to continue to the U.S.-Mexico border, according to David López, the caravan’s most visible leader.
Mexican officials had repeatedly warned the migrants that anyone crossing the river illegally would be deported. But it remained to be seen if Mexico would act against the caravan.
Mexico has deported a growing number of Central Americans in recent years, partly under pressure from the U.S. But Mexican officials have long said the Mexico-Guatemala border is porous and difficult to patrol. “There are a lot of informal entry points” along the river, a spokeswoman for Mexico’s migration agency said. Nonetheless, “those who entered the country illegally will be deported,” she said.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump warned the migrants in a message on Twitter that if they didn’t accept Mexico’s offer of asylum, they would be denied entry to the U.S. “People have to apply for asylum in Mexico first, and if they fail to do that, the U.S. will turn them away. The courts are asking the U.S. to do things that are not doable!”
Some migrants expressed defiance.
“If Trump wants to militarize the frontier, he is welcome to do so!” said Mr. López, a husky 25-year-old law student with a wispy beard.
Mr. López said the caravan includes 5,000 people. But there were no official estimates about the size of the group. Most of them crossed the Suchiate River, the wide river of brown waters dividing Mexico and Guatemala, on rickety rafts.
The immigrant caravan puts Mexico in a difficult position, said Jorge Chabat, an expert on U.S.-Mexican relations at the University of Guadalajara.
“There is the pressure from Trump to return the migrants, but how do you do that with the thousands that have crossed without having an incident where somebody could get killed?” Mr. Chabat said. “But if you let them all in, then tomorrow you will have four more caravans. It could get complicated.”
The government in Honduras has closed down one of the three main border crossings with Guatemala since Saturday after two trucks loaded with migrants burst through a line of Honduran police into Guatemala.
Moises Starkman, a political economy professor at the Universidad Tecnica de America Central in Honduras, said he believes that immigration from Honduras to the U.S. will continue unabated for the foreseeable future. “The magnet of the American dream is very strong,” he said. “Many more people will leave depending on what happens to this caravan.”
The migrant caravan started Oct. 12 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, one of the world’s most violent cities. What began as a move by several hundred people quickly swelled as word spread through social media, amplified by several leftist politicians. After a pilgrimage across Guatemala, the caravan got to Tecun Uman on the Mexico-Guatemala border last Wednesday.
Once the migrants were in Tecun Uman, Mr. López became one of the key leaders, organizing logistics. He is an antiestablishment social activist who belongs to U.S.-Mexico nonprofit People Without Frontiers, whose goal “is to build solidarity bridges among peoples and turndown border walls imposed by greed,” according to its website.
The nonprofit has been organizing migrant caravans each year since at least 2008. The last one earlier this year, which was much larger than the previous ones, caused a political crisis between the U.S. and Mexico. After Mr. Trump publicly criticized the caravan, it was disbanded in the southern state of Oaxaca as it headed northward.
Mr. López, the leader of the Honduran caravan, said he was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, the son of a Mexican and a Honduran. He said he joined People Without Frontiers five years ago and combines his law studies with social activism.
“This is about helping the poor and the migrant, this is all about the dignity and the better life they deserve,” he said.
—Rebecca Ballhaus in Washington contributed to this article.
Write to Juan Montes at email@example.com
Appeared in the October 22, 2018, print edition as ‘Caravan Resumes Trek Toward the U.S..’