By Alix Hardy
TAPACHULA, Mexico (AA) – A caravan of more than 7,000 migrants was slowly making its way through Mexico on Monday, two days after most of it illegally crossed the country’s southern border with Guatemala as America’s president pressured Central American countries to halt it.
After spending their second night in the town of Tapachula, the migrants took to the road once more under the sweltering sun to reach Huixtla, a town about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north in the Chiapas region.
The Red Cross, which was absent the previous day, was taking care of pregnant women on the trail. The caravan counts many women and children — a lot of them very young — whom their parents carry on their shoulders or in their arms.
“This is an exodus without precedent,” Ruben Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, told Anadolu Agency in the small border town of Ciudad Hidalgo.
The caravan mostly consists of Hondurans who are fleeing their violent and poverty-stricken country.
“I had to go for my son — to offer him a better life,” said 23-year-old Jessica Velasquez during the caravan’s haul to Tapachula as 2-year-old Santiago smiled. She said in Honduras, she and her husband could not afford to buy a house and had trouble renting a place as they couldn’t find work anymore.
“If you go to a hospital in Honduras, you will not find medication. We are not leaving because we want to, but because we need to,” 22-year-old Honduran mother Sindy Sandoval added.
She left her two children back in Honduras and plans to get a job in the U.S. to send money back home so that her younger siblings and her children can afford to go to school.
A lot of migrants fled because of the violent criminal groups that extort those with jobs.
“It’s called a ‘war tax’, and if you can’t pay it, you risk death,” said a Honduran migrant, who declined to give his name.
Numerous migrants also referred to President Juan Orlando Hernandez as being a factor of leaving.
“Since he came to power five years ago, things have worsened,” said Santiago’s grandfather, José.
The migrants were happy to be in Mexico, as it meant they were getting closer to their final goal — the United States. But many of them also said they were worried about Mexican authorities. Since the vast majority of them entered the country illegally, they risk being deported.
So far, local police have not tried to stop the caravan. During the walk from the border to Tapachula, police set up road blocks twice with hundreds of riot-control equipped officers, but they were lifted before the migrants got there.
The caravan arrived at the Guatemala-Mexico border Friday. After crossing a metal fence, thousands of migrants were stuck for more than 24 hours on the border bridge that crosses the Suchiate River, waiting for the Mexican border to open. When it did not, an increasing number of migrants decided to cross illegally using rafts. By Saturday night, only a thousand were left waiting on the bridge, while the others were on Mexican land, unauthorized.
Mexico’s National Institute of Migration said Sunday they had processed around a thousand asylum applications.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reminded migrants Sunday that "going undocumented would make it extremely difficult to reach their goal, being reaching the U.S. or settling in Mexico".
“These caravans reveal the breaches in the migration policies of the countries they go through,” Figueroa told Anadolu Agency in Ciudad Hidalgo’s main square as migrants kept coming in from the muddy banks of the Suchiate River they had just crossed.
Another group of about a thousand Honduran migrants is making its way through Guatemala on foot towards the Mexican border, Guatemalan police confirmed Monday.
On Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he would “begin cutting off, or substantially reducing” the “massive” foreign aid that Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador receive from the U.S. as they “were not able to do the job” — a claim he had already made days prior and to which migrants in Tapachula only reacted to with disdain.
“If money is sent over to Honduras, then I’ve never seen the color of it in my life,” said Sindy Sandoval while resting with her family in the house of a Guatemalan woman before crossing the river on a raft hours later.
Conveniently reminding U.S. voters that midterm elections were coming up, Trump insisted the caravan, which is still some 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) away from the U.S.-Mexican border, was a “national emergency”.
“Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in,” he added, without providing evidence to support his statement.
It was a claim that numerous reporters covering the caravan dismissed as false.
"This caravan is not about one country. It's the reflection of what is happening in the region, and the crisis should be addressed regionally. It's not about borders," the Fifth General Visitor of the National Commission of Human Rights, Edgar Corzo Sosa, said in Tapachula.
Mexican President-elect Lopez Obrador, who will be sworn in on Dec. 1, has stated various times that he plans to offer migrants work visas. His incoming foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said Monday that the future government would "considerably change its migration policies" as well as invest in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.