Migrant caravan: Pompeo in Mexico City as thousands of Central Americans head north

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MEXICO CITY — As thousands of Central American migrants close in on Mexico’s southern border, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with senior officials here, hoping to steer clear of the caravan before it departs. reaches the United States.

By Friday morning, at least a thousand migrants had arrived in the town of Tecun Uman in northern Guatemala, and by early afternoon they began crossing a bridge connecting the two countries, even as Mexico deployed additional police along the border. A huge group waited to be processed by Mexican authorities, punctuated by moments of disorder as police fired tear gas into the crowd.

“We are quickly reaching a point that appears to be a moment of crisis” with the flow of Central American migrants, Pompeo said during a joint appearance with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray.

The caravan of migrants bound for the United States crossed border fences and passed through migration checkpoints on the Guatemala-Mexico border on October 19. (Video: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Mexican authorities, seeking a way to both satisfy President Trump’s request to deter migrants and avoid violating international law, have asked the United Nations to set up a migrant processing center near their southern border. Pompeo said in a statement that he welcomes the plan.

During the joint appearance on Friday, he added: “How you handle this is your sovereign decision.”

But as Trump told a rally on Thursday that the midterm elections would depend in part on the caravan, it was clear that US pressure on Mexico would continue.

The caravan members seemed unlikely to wait for the United Nations. On Friday, many migrants approached border crossing points where Guatemalan police officers appeared ready to block their passage. In the early afternoon, they breached a fence on the Guatemalan side, forcing their way to the Mexican side of the bridge. Mexican authorities used riot gear to chase away some of the migrants, telling them to prepare to await processing.

Before departing by plane, Pompeo said four police officers were injured and he blamed the caravan for using women and children as shields.

In response to the deployment of Mexican police, Trump tweeted“Thank you Mexico”, Thursday, just a few hours later threatening to deploy the US military and “close our southern border” – which could upset a recent trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

His threats kept pace with the migrants’ journey. As they passed through Guatemala, he threatened to withdraw aid from Central American countries if they did not arrest the migrants. Paradoxically, much of this aid is used in programs aimed at deterring migration.

Speaking at the joint press conference, Videgaray said the Mexican government would enforce the country’s immigration laws, “in a humanitarian form, thinking first of the migrant’s interest.”

Videgaray also stressed the need for the United States to promote anti-poverty programs in Central America, calling the lack of economic development “major reasons for migration.”

Even with additional border security personnel, Mexico is unlikely to be able to detain the thousands of migrants who look likely to enter the country in the coming days. Typically, migrants use rafts to float through informal border crossings.

Mexican officials will have to decide how to handle migrants who continue to travel on foot and by vehicle to the southern border, a journey that could take weeks. Earlier this year, during a previous migrant caravan, Mexico finally registered the migrants and gave them permits of up to 30 days to leave the country or seek asylum.

Migrant caravans have been happening for years, providing migrants with a safe way to head north, while also aiming to draw attention to the plight of the region’s most desperate people. But before the Trump administration, they attracted little attention. While there may be as many as 3,000 or 4,000 people in the current caravan, that number is dwarfed by the more than 450,000 people who have been apprehended along the US-Mexico border this year.

Immigration advocates and international refugee law experts say providing transit documents to people seeking protection would be a reasonable and humane response. But that would likely infuriate Trump, who appears to see it as Mexico’s responsibility to prevent migrants from reaching the US border by any means possible.

Pompeo’s trip to Mexico was planned before the caravan, but on Friday he called it “the biggest problem we face today” now that the trade deal with Mexico has been reached.

Some immigrant rights advocates said they were pleased with Mexico’s call to involve the United Nations in processing asylum claims.

“It tells me that Mexico recognizes the protection dimension here as well as its own inability to deal with” the caravan members, said Bill Frelick, director of the refugee rights program at Human Rights Watch.

But Mexican officials have not said what role they would like the United Nations to play.

“Specific information on the support provided by UNHCR regarding the processing of refugee status claims and support for applicants during their stay in Mexico will be made public as soon as an official response is received,” the Mexican Ministry of Health said Thursday. Foreign Affairs in a press release.

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