Migrants Vow to Rebuild Caravan and Continue Trek to U.S.

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — About 2,000 Central American migrants who circumvented the Mexican police at a border bridge and swam, forded and floated across the river from Guatemala decided on Saturday to re-form their mass caravan and continue their trek toward the United States.

Gathered at a park in the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo, the migrants voted by a show of hands and then marched to the bridge to urge those still there to cross the river and join them.

“Let’s all walk together!” and “Yes, we can!” they cried, defying recent warnings from President Trump to turn back. He has sought to make the caravan and border security a campaign issue before the midterm elections on Nov. 6.

The group’s decision capped a day in which the Mexican authorities again refused mass entry to migrants on the bridge, instead accepting small groups for asylum processing and giving out 45-day visitor permits to some.

Mexico had sought to maintain order after a chaotic Friday in which thousands rushed across the bridge, only to be halted by a phalanx of officers in riot gear. The authorities began handing out numbers for people to be processed in a strategy seen before at United States border posts when dealing with large numbers of migrants.

But despite a continued heavy police deployment on the bridge, a steady stream of migrants made it to Mexican soil with relative ease by crossing the Suchiate River, which demarcates the notoriously porous border. They were not detained upon reaching the Mexican side.

They swam and waded with the aid of ropes or locals who charged the equivalent of $1.25 to ferry them across the muddy waters.

“We are going to keep going as far as we can” and hope to make it to the United States border, said Rodrigo Abeja, one of the migrants’ leaders, adding that on Sunday morning they would head for Tapachula, Mexico.

Easily 3,000 people were on the bridge on Friday, but the crowd had thinned out considerably by Saturday. In addition to those who crossed the river, immigration agents processed migrants in small groups and then bused them to an open-air, metal-roofed fairground in Tapachula, where the Red Cross set up small blue tents on the concrete floor.

But the pace was slow, frustrating those who remained on the bridge in hot and cramped conditions.

“Please let us in, we want to work!” they urged agents at the main gate. Behind it, workers erected tall steel riot barriers to channel people in an orderly fashion.

Each time a small side gate opened to allow people to pass, there was a crush of bodies as migrants desperately pushed forward.

Scarleth Cruz hoisted a crying, sweat-soaked baby above the crowd, saying, “This girl is suffocating.”

Ms. Cruz, 20, said she was going to ask for political asylum because of threats and repression she faced in Honduras from President Juan Orlando Hernández’s governing party.

Mexico’s Interior Department said in a statement that it had received 640 refugee requests by Hondurans at the border crossing. It released photos of migrants getting off buses at a shelter and receiving food and medical care.

At least half a dozen migrants fainted.

Some tore open a fence on the Guatemala side of the bridge and threw two young children, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, and their mother into the muddy waters about 40 feet below. They were rafted to safety on the Mexican bank.

Mexican workers handed food and bottled water to the migrants on the bridge, and help also came from Guatemalan locals. For Carlos Martínez, 24, of Santa Barbara, Honduras, the plate of chicken with rice was the first meal he had had all day.

“It is a blessing that they have given us food,” Mr. Martínez said. “It gives me courage to keep waiting, as long as I can.”

Migrants cited widespread poverty and gang violence in Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest homicide rates, as their reasons for joining the caravan.

“One cannot live back there,” said Fidelina Vasquez, who was traveling with her daughter and 2-year-old grandson.

Héctor Aguilar, 49, a former sales manager who had been driving a taxi in Honduras to feed his four children, said that to work he had to pay the two main gangs there protection money.

“On Thursdays I paid the 18th Street gang, and on Saturdays the MS-13,” Mr. Aguilar said. “Three hundred lempiras per day” — about $12.50, a significant amount in low-wage Honduras.

The caravan elicited angry tweets and warnings from Mr. Trump early last week, but Mexico’s no-nonsense handling of the migrants at its southern border seemed to have satisfied him more recently.

“I thank Mexico,” Mr. Trump said on Friday at an event in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If that doesn’t work out, we’re calling up the military — not the Guard.”

He added, “They’re not coming into this country.”

On Saturday the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said, “The Mexican government is fully engaged in finding a solution that encourages safe, secure and orderly migration, and both the United States and Mexico continue to work with Central American governments to address the economic, security and governance drivers of illegal immigration.”

Presidents Hernandez of Honduras and Jimmy Morales of Guatemala held an emergency meeting on Saturday at a Guatemalan air base. They said about 5,400 migrants had entered Guatemala since the caravan was announced a week ago, and that about 2,000 Hondurans had returned voluntarily.

Thousands of migrants were sleeping — or trying to — outdoors under tarps and what blankets were available.

Despite the chill and uncomfortable conditions, José Yáñez, a 25-year-old farmer, was determined to press onward, saying the $6 a day he made back home was not enough to live on.

“From here,” Mr. Yáñez said, “there’s no going back.”

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