Matías Romero: The hundreds of Central Americans in the “Way of the Cross” migrant caravan have infuriated President Donald Trump, but they are not moving very fast — if at all — and remain far from the US border. As Trump vowed Tuesday to send troops to secure the southern US border, the caravan was camped out for the third straight day in the town of Matias Romero, in southern Mexico, more than 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) from the United States.
The just over 1,000 migrants who currently make up the caravan were planning to spend their fourth night here Tuesday, sleeping in parks and athletic fields with their belongings beside them in plastic bags and suitcases. Most have been sleeping on the ground on large blankets or cardboard boxes. A few have small tents and sleeping bags.
“We just set up a little camp to feel a bit more comfortable and sleep. The next day, we’re back to worrying about what will happen next,” said Nixon Gomez, a Honduran making the slow trek with the caravan. The group has paused here to meet with Mexican immigration authorities, who have been caught on the receiving end of three straight days of Twitter diatribes from Trump.
The activists organizing the caravan say the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM) is offering to help the migrants get humanitarian visas to stay in Mexico, since many are fleeing brutal gang violence in Central America, home to the some of the highest murder rates in the world.
But the Mexican authorities are also making a desperate plea, the activists say. “They are saying, ‘Please, spread out, we need there to be less of you,'” an activist from the group People Without Borders (Pueblo sin Fronteras) told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he says he has received death threats for helping the migrants.
“It’s because of Trump. There’s a lot of pressure on Mexico. They’ve told us behind closed doors that if this stays as big as it is, with all the media coverage, they may take action.”
Trump has threatened to axe the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he called Mexico’s “cash cow,” if the Mexican government does not stop the migrants. He has also threatened to cut foreign aid to Honduras, the country of origin of about 80 percent of the migrants. The rest are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
On Monday, Mexico said it had detained and repatriated about 400 migrants who were originally part of the caravan, which set out on March 25 from Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala. Mexican authorities arrested around 20 more migrants early Tuesday in a raid in the eastern state of Veracruz, out of a group of about 250 caravan members who had decided to travel ahead by hopping a train.
The rest of the group remains in Matias Romero, enduring the scorching heat — and waiting. Adults were using the pause to wash clothes, as children played with a pinata. At one point, a crowd that gathered in the bleachers alongside a football pitch sang the Honduran national anthem, trying to keep people’s spirits up. Activists gave advice through a bullhorn. “If the agreements (with the authorities) are not respected, the caravan will keep going,” said one.
Activists have been organizing such caravans every year around Easter for nearly a decade. The main goal is not to reach the United States — though some participants have crossed the border in the past. Rather, activists say, it is about raising awareness of the perilous journey that thousands of migrants make each year to find a safe home for their families.
The group’s immediate objective is to reach the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, by Thursday. They still do not know how they will get there. In Puebla, they will have a four-day legal clinic with immigration law experts who will counsel individual migrants and families on what their options are for seeking asylum or refugee status, either in Mexico or the United States.
The caravan will only take people to the border if they have strong claims for asylum, the activist told AFP. “This guy is very wrong,” he said, referring to Trump. “We aren’t doing anything illegal. “The people who are going all the way to the border are the ones who have the surest chance of gaining refugee status in the United States, which is a right protected under international law.”