Fleeing violence, Honduran migrant caravan enters Guatemala en route to US

Instead of making the perilous journey across Central America and Mexico alone, hundreds of Hondurans are marching toward the US together in a search for a better life and as a protest against endemic gang violence and widespread poverty in the region. 

Jorge Cabrera/Reuters
Guatemalan police officers watch as Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the United States, arrive in Esquipulas, Guatemala, on Oct.15, 2018. More than 1,000 migrants have banded together in safety as they march toward the border.

Hundreds of Honduran migrants surged over the Guatemalan border under a broiling sun Monday hoping to make it to new lives in the United States, far from the poverty and violence of their home nation.

Police stopped the migrants at a roadblock outside Esquipulas for several hours in the afternoon, but the travelers refused to return to the border and were eventually allowed to pass.

They arrived in town as night fell, exhausted by the day's heat, hobbling on blistered feet. Few carried food and some local residents began to organize to help feed them. Some migrants asked for money, others passing a bakery were handed bread.

Earlier in the day, the migrants arrived at the Guatemalan border singing the Honduran national anthem, praying and chanting, "Yes, we can." The group estimated at 1,600 or more defied an order by the Guatemalan government that they not be allowed to pass.

"We have rights," the migrants shouted.

Keilin Umana, who is two months pregnant, said she was moved to migrate to save herself and her unborn child after she was threatened with death.

Ms. Umana, a nurse, said she had been walking for four days. "We are not criminals – we are migrants," she said.

Many in the caravan traveled light, with just backpacks and bottles of water. Some pushed toddlers in strollers or carried them on their shoulders.

Carlos Cortez, a farmer traveling on foot with his 7-year-old son, said poverty back home made it impossible to support a family.

"Every day I earn about $5," Mr. Cortez said. "That isn't enough to feed my family."

The caravan was met at the border by about 100 Guatemalan police officers. After a standoff of about two hours, the migrants began walking again. Outnumbered, the police did nothing to stop them and accompanied them several miles into Guatemalan territory.

Officers then set up the roadblock about a mile outside the city of Esquipulas, where the migrants had planned to spend the night.

The migrants were stuck for about three hours. About 250 police kept them from advancing and told them they had to return to the border to go through immigration. The migrants refused to budge and it appeared they would likely sleep on the highway. But eventually officers let them pass.

Some police and Guatemalan civilians offered the migrants water, and some locals drove Hondurans part of the way. Red Cross workers gave medical attention to some migrants who fainted in the heat.

The caravan began as about 160 people who first gathered early Friday to depart from San Pedro Sula, one of Honduras' most dangerous places, figuring that traveling as a group would make them less vulnerable to robbery, assault, and other dangers common on the migratory path through Central America and Mexico.

Local media coverage prompted hundreds more to join, and Dunia Montoya, a volunteer assisting the migrants, estimated Sunday that the group had grown to at least 1,600 people. Police gave their own estimate of around 2,000 on Monday.

The caravan formed a day after US Vice President Mike Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to stay home and not put their families in danger by undertaking the risky journey to the United States.

In April, President Trump threatened in April to withdraw foreign aid from Honduras and countries that allowed transit for a similar caravan that set out from the Central American country. That caravan dwindled as the group approached the US border, with some giving up along the way and others splitting off to try to cross on their own.

Historian Dana Frank, an expert on human rights and US policy in Honduras, said the caravan could have political implications in the United States less than a month before the midterm elections.

"Whatever the caravan's origins, some in the United States will be quick to raise alarms about a supposed dangerous immigrant invasion, and use that to try to influence the upcoming US elections," Ms. Frank said. "Others will view these migrants with compassion and as further evidence of the need for comprehensive immigration reform...."

Frank added that the caravan's rapid growth "underscores quite how desperate the Honduran people are – that they'd begin walking toward refuge in the United States with only a day back full of belongings."

In San Pedro Sula, where the procession started, sociologist Jenny Arguello said authorities wanted to make the mass migration out to be a political event, but it was just poor people fleeing violence.

"From my community 20 went and one neighbor came back sad with his little backpack because when he arrived they had already left," Ms. Arguello said. "You see that the need to leave is the priority. The people have already made up their minds and just hearing of the possibility they take off."

Honduras is largely dominated by murderous gangs that prey on families and businesses, and routinely sees homicide rates that are among the highest in the world.

Late Monday, Mexico's immigration authority said in a statement directed at the caravan that agents would have to review them individually at the border and those who did not meet requirements would not be allowed to enter.

Katie Waldman, a US Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said in a statement that the caravan was "what we see day-in and day-out at the border as a result of well-advertised and well-known catch-and-release loopholes."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Additional reporting by AP writers Maria Verza in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, Calif. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Fleeing violence, Honduran migrant caravan enters Guatemala en route to US
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today