Large caravan of Central American migrants crosses into Mexico

Hundreds of migrants that had been traveling through southern Mexico stopped on Monday to rest and speak with local officials about filing for asylum. Despite concerns from President Trump, most of the group is ill-equipped to travel to the US border. 

Jose de Jesus Cortes/Reuters
Central American migrants in traveling through Mexico wait in line for a meal on April 2, 2018, in Matias Romero, Mexico. The 'Stations of the Cross' caravans, which began as protests against the violence migrants face in Mexico, have taken place in the country's south for about a decade.

A big caravan of Central American migrants that has stirred up concerns in the United States, including drawing tweets from President Trump, has halted its march for a rest at a sports field in southern Mexico.

The US leader warned about "caravans" of migrants heading to the US, and others questioned whether the caravan of approximately 1,100 people was moving across Mexico toward its northern border with the intent of crossing into the United States.

On Monday, the mass of mostly Hondurans that had been walking along roadsides and train tracks stopped in Oaxaca state at the field, where they are getting advice on filing for transit or humanitarian visas in Mexico. Many took refuge from the hot afternoon sun by resting in the stands under the awning. As night fell, the migrants, many with children, lit fires to cook their meager rations.

A group of a couple hundred men did break off from the march Sunday, hopping a freight train north probably with hopes of trying to enter the US. But the rest seemed unlikely to move again until Wednesday or Thursday, and they probably would take buses to the last scheduled stop for the caravan, a migrant rights symposium in central Puebla state.

Irineo Mujica, director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the activist group behind the annual symbolic event designed to draw attention to the plight of migrants, said the caravan would continue only to Puebla southeast of Mexico City, "but not in a massive way."

After the symposium, some migrants might go to Mexico's capital, where it is easier to make an asylum claim. Mr. Mujica said about 300 to 400 say they have relatives living in Mexico and so may consider staying here at least temporarily.

There were reports Mexican officials were seeking to end the caravan, but it was for all intents and purposes over anyway. The participants were never equipped to march en masse to the US border or anywhere near it.

The "Stations of the Cross" caravans have been held annually in southern Mexico for about 10 years. They began as short processions of migrants, some dressed in biblical garb and carrying crosses, as an Easter-season protest against the kidnappings, extortion, beatings, and killings suffered by many Central American migrants as they cross Mexico.

The organized portions of the caravans usually have not gone much farther north than the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, although some participants have then gone off by bus or truck to the US border, moving as individuals or in small groups.

This year's event seems to have gotten more notice in the US, and Mr. Trump has sent some angry tweets that raised hackles in Mexico.

"Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the US. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!" Trump wrote in one. "With all of the money they make from the US, hopefully they will stop people from coming through their country and into ours."

Mexico's interior secretary, Alfonso Navarrete Prida, rejected such pressure.

"We will act with complete sovereignty in enforcing our laws," he said Monday. "Of course we will act ... to enforce our immigration laws, with no pressure whatsoever from any country whatsoever."

In a statement late Monday, Mexico's government said about 400 participants in the caravan had already been sent back to their home countries. "Under no circumstances does the Mexican government promote irregular migration," the Interior Ministry statement said.

But it added that Mexico considers the annual caravans to be "a public demonstration that seeks to call attention to the migration phenomenon and the importance of respecting the rights of Central Americans." The US government has been kept fully informed of the situation, it said.

The department also said that unlike in previous years of the caravan, "this time Mexican immigration authorities have offered refugee status" to participants who qualify. But it suggested it is not up to Mexico to keep people from going to the US to apply for asylum.

"It is not this government's responsibility to make immigration decisions for the United States or any other country, so it will be up to the appropriate authorities of the United States to decide whether to authorize the entry of the caravan participants to US territory," the statement said.

Navarette Prida had said earlier that he talked with US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday about handling migration, "in accordance with each country's laws."

Ms. Nielsen later tweeted that their talk focused specifically on the annual migrant caravan. "Working with Mexican officials to address the yearly illegal alien caravan. Exploring all options," she wrote.

Mexico routinely stops and deports Central Americans, sometimes in numbers that rival those of the US. Deportations of foreigners dropped from 176,726 in 2015 to 76,433 in 2017, in part because fewer were believed to have come to Mexico, and more were requesting asylum in Mexico.

Mexico granted 3,223 asylum requests made in 2016, and 9,626 requests filed last year are either under review or have been accepted.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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