“When we saw the numbers, we were shocked,” said Irineo Mujica, a Mexican-American activist who is helping organize the trek. “It’s impossible to travel with so many people.”
Trump warned on Twitter this week that a ‘great caravan’ was ‘now crossing Mexico and heading towards our ‘weak laws’ border” – one of many warnings he posted about the march. The president, who has made the fight against illegal immigration a central campaign promise, said he would send troops to the border to prevent a flood of illegal immigrants.
Trump says he will send the army to guard the US border
But while many Central Americans in the group say they will try to make it to the United States on their own, it has been decided that the organized caravan will end in Mexico City after a stopover in the city of Puebla later this week.
In a confusing twist, Trump appeared to praise Mexico’s “tough immigration laws” on Thursday for stopping the caravan from heading to the US border. Earlier this week, Trump accused Mexico of doing little to stop the flow of migrants and threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement as punishment.
“The caravan is largely broken thanks to Mexico’s strict immigration laws and their willingness to use them to not cause a giant scene at our border,” Trump wrote. in a tweet, who also took credit for policies that limited border crossings.
In Mexico, some families huddled under tarpaulins and trees on a soccer field in Matias Romero said they were frustrated to learn that the caravan would not reach the border, having relied on the protection offered by the large group.
After fleeing San Pedro Sula, Honduras, because of gang threats, 22-year-old Katerina Dominguez Enamorado was in Tapachula, a town in southern Mexico, when she joined the caravan. She expected it to end in Tijuana, the Mexican border town across from San Diego. If she had known it would only cross half of Mexico, she said, she would have tried to work in Tapachula and save money for the trip.
“My mission is to reach Tijuana, even if I have to beg for money and hitchhike,” she said.
On Wednesday, Mexican immigration officials issued legal permits for up to a month to hundreds of migrants who spent their fourth day in a public park here in the southern state of Oaxaca, waiting for the caravan continues. This saves them from immediate eviction but is not a long-term solution. For Mujica, the organizer, that’s all he expects.
Mujica, the director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a migrant rights group, said he never intended to rush the group across the border. In fact, he said, many migrants hoping to reach the border were planning to seek asylum – not sneak in illegally.
Caravans like this are common as an attempt to raise awareness, but they exist outside of the regular flow of migrants. Conservative US media seized on this year’s caravan as an example of uncontrolled migration, and Trump’s comments drew more attention to it.
Although the president has repeatedly warned of the dangers of illegal immigrants crossing the border, the numbers have plummeted. US border officials reported a 26% drop in the number of people detained along the Mexican border in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Trump heats up rhetoric on border and immigration as some supporters grow impatient
Mujica reiterated that the purpose of the caravan was to highlight the need for legal reforms, draw attention to the plight of migrants and push for more welcoming policies from Mexican authorities. He said “the best thing we’ve won” from the spotlight Trump has shone on this particular group is a high-level meeting with Mexican immigration authorities to talk about long-term change.
Before, “it was like a deaf ear, no one was listening,” Mujica said, adding that migrants will be able to “exercise their rights with these documents.”
Organizers say migrants can now take buses themselves to Puebla, a city south of the capital, where a workshop on immigration law is scheduled for Friday. Rodrigo Abeja, one of the organizers, said help was being sought from a splinter faction of the Mexican teachers’ union, which has years of experience organizing large protests and is generally aligned with the candidate. country’s left-wing presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But the logistics remain fluid.
Even before Trump got involved, it had become the largest caravan this group of organizers had seen.
Many Hondurans who fled after their country’s disputed presidential election in November had already gathered in Tapachula and joined the caravan when it left late last month. Mujica said at least 80% of the migrants come from Honduras.
One of them, Maria Elena Colindres Ortega, 43, had been an MP in Honduras until January. She said she joined in hopes of eventually seeking political asylum in the United States. More than 20 people have been killed in post-election protests, and Honduras has long been a dangerous place for activists.
“I couldn’t wait for them to kill me,” Colindres Ortega said.
The hundreds of people gathered here still face daunting prospects. After the caravan’s relative safety comes to an end, dangers abound for migrants, especially in the violence-ridden Mexican states along the US border. And while most here have tales of doom, proving need for asylum in US courts is another matter.
Misael Bonilla, 31, carried with him the birth certificates of his three children and a printed photograph of his slain brother-in-law which he hoped would be enough for his family to seek asylum in the United States. The family moved three times to escape the Barrio 18 street gang, which he said fired shots at his home, left death threats on his phone and sent threats to his stepson on Facebook.
“You take the risk of staying in your own country, where they will kill you, or you take the risk of taking this path, which is dangerous,” Bonilla said. “We thought it best to flee.”
Trump has made the migrant caravan a central theme in tweets. He warned that Mexico must stop the group or risk being penalized in negotiations over the revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also threatened to cut US aid to Honduras.
Maya Averbuch of Matias Romero contributed to this report.
After harrowing call with Trump over border wall, Mexican president’s shelves plan to visit White House
Gallery: What a Caravan of Central American Migrants Heading to the United States Looks Like
Today’s coverage of postal correspondents around the world
Like the Washington Post World on Facebook and stay informed about foreign news