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Caravan migrants flood southern Mexico, tugging suitcases and hopes of reaching U.S.-Mexico border


By David Agren, USA TODAY

Under a hot sun with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, thousands of migrants on Monday set out in a long column snaking through this city as local residents stood on the sidewalk and filmed with their smartphones the controversial caravan that has angered President Donald Trump.

Exhausted Central America migrants were all over the central district of this city in southern Mexico, where tired families were sprawled on the grounds of this city’s outdoor plaza in hopes of getting some rest before continuing on their quest to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.

The sheer number of migrants is growing, with UN officials saying it may be as high as 7,000, up from estimates of 4,000 over the weekend. For many migrants, the stop here in this city of 300,000 people is only temporary because they are focused on getting to the U.S., even though McAllen, the nearest U.S. border town, is more than 1,100 miles away.

On Monday afternoon, many migrants toted umbrellas to beat the oppressive heat. Some even sported surplus T-shirts with political party logos from Mexico’s recent election. The migrants often buddied up along the way and would help each other on the road. Groups of migrants gathered in circles to pray – with some clutching Bibles – prior to hitting the road.

All the while, officials from the federal and Chiapas state human rights commission kept an eye on the caravan. The Mexican government deployed 500 federal police officers to the region.

The mood among the thousands of migrants, mostly Hondurans but also includes Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans, was one of determination to make it to the United States, or “the promised land” as one migrant described to one reporter.

Most of the migrants in the caravan have come with little more than the clothes on their back and with very little money in their pockets. Others could be seen tugging suitcases and a few even pushed baby strollers as they headed toward the next stop on their sojourn. The town of Huixtla, population about 30,000, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala.

The throng of Central American newcomers was not being scorned by local Mexicans but was welcomed in and around Tapachula. They have pitched in to help the caravan as it passes through Chiapas – Mexico’s poorest state. Tapachula is part of the state of Chiapas.

Local Mexicans could be seen handing out water bottles and food to the thirsty and hungry migrants. They also distributed clothes and shoes and gave out coins to those begging along the roadway. Some tractor-trailer and pickup drivers offered migrants free rides or the migrants themselves stole rides in a passing dump truck.

Among the collection of migrants was Gerson Monterosa, 32, who told USA TODAY that he, his wife and three young children, including a two-month old baby, were determined to get to the United States to escape the lawlessness that plagues the country of his birth. The Honduran family had been on the road since early October, traveling through Guatemala and now Mexico. Others had climbed on makeshift rafts or swam across the Suchiate River, which separates the two countries.

Monterosa, a factory worker, said he fled after threats from tattooed young men, who demanded their “rent” – a euphemism for extortion – totaling 5,000 Lempiras per month for nothing more than living in his own home. Nonpayment wasn’t an option, especially as his factory job wasn’t offering steady hours.

“They gave me a piece of paper saying that if I didn’t pay them they were going to kill me,” Monterosa said. “They gave a week or they were going to burn down the house.”

“I couldn’t make ends meet,” Monterosa said in explaining why he bolted from the only country he’s ever known.

Migrants moving north on the caravan offered similar stories of suffering indignities, almost always involving poverty, threats and violence in Honduras – long one of the most violent countries in the world, where street gangs control neighborhoods and drug cartels transit tons of cocaine coming out of South America.

They also complained of rising prices for utilities – the product of the electric company being privatized – along with increased taxes and companies in the countries starting to charge them in dollars for services, even as they earned Lempiras. We left without a single Lempira” (Honduras’ currency,) he said in Tapachula, where he joined others in camping overnight in this city’s central square to get some sorely needed rest before setting off again on the long road ahead.

United Nations officials estimate the number of migrants in the caravan may continue to grow. UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York on Monday afternoon. He added migrants continued to arrive in Mexico and “are likely to remain in the country for an extended period.”

The UN High Commission on Refugees has deployed 32 staffers in the Mexican towns of Ciudad Hidalgo and Tapachula to help the Mexican government review asylum claims of migrants.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continued his criticism of the caravan, lobbing a series of threats Monday morning against Central American governments for not being able to stop the migrants.

Trump wrote that he would follow through on threats to cut off funding for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador now that the caravan has cleared Central America and ensconced itself in southern Mexico. The president warned of “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” mixed into the migrant caravan group, which originated in Honduras but has swelled in size as people from other nations have jumped in along the way.

“There isn’t a single terrorist here,” Denis Omar Contreras, one of the caravan organizers, told The Associated Press. He said caravan migrants come from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. “As far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt governments.”

Many, like Monterosa, joined the caravan after seeing a Facebook posting and said he had no idea who was officially organizing the caravan. He also expressed uncertainty over Trump’s promise to not allow the caravan entry into the United States.

“Only God knows what’s going to happen,” he said.

Carlos Leonidas Garcia Urbina, a 28-year-old from Tocoa, Honduras, said he was cutting the grass in his father’s yard when he heard about the caravan, dropped the shears right there on the ground and ran to join with just 500 lempiras ($20) in his pocket.

“We are going to the promised land,” Garcia told the AP.

José Anibal Rivera, 52, an unemployed Honduran security guard from San Pedro Sula crossed into Mexico by raft Sunday and walked up to Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo to join the caravan. “There are like 500 more people behind me,” he told the AP.

Like the last caravan of migrants — about 1,200 — who traipsed through Mexico earlier this year, this group is already breaking up and may dwindle long before they get to America’s southwest doorstep. Only about 200 of the original 1,200 migrants made it all the way to the border in California, the AP reported Monday.


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World - U.S. Daily News: Caravan migrants flood southern Mexico, tugging suitcases and hopes of reaching U.S.-Mexico border
Caravan migrants flood southern Mexico, tugging suitcases and hopes of reaching U.S.-Mexico border
World - U.S. Daily News
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