As about 3,000 Hondurans made their way through Guatemala, attention – and pressure – turned to Mexico after American president Donald Trump threatened to close the US-Mexico border if authorities there fail to stop the impromptu caravan.
Mexico dispatched additional police to its southern border after the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in Tecun Uman on the Guatemalan side of the border reported that hundreds of Hondurans had already arrived at the location.
Mexican officials say the Hondurans won’t be allowed to enter as a group and would either have to show a passport and visa – something few apparently have – or apply individually for refugee status. An application could mean waiting for up to 90 days for approval. Mr Trump tweeted: “I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the US Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”
Mexico’s Ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Manuel Lopez Moreno, met with leaders of the caravan on Wednesday and warned them Hondurans caught without papers in Mexico would be deported.
But the idea that Mexico could close its porous southern border or that the United States would choke off the hundreds of thousands of legal freight, vehicle and pedestrian crossings every day strained the imagination.
Much like Guatemala, Mexico is a country where many have migrated, raising the question of whether the political will for a confrontation exists.
Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will take office on 1 December, wants to avoid repression against migrants and angering the United States.
He has long pushed economic development as a way to keep people from migrating. On Wednesday, he said: “We will offer jobs, work to Central Americans. Anyone who wants to work in our country will have help, will have a work visa.”
As the caravan strung out from Guatemala City to the border, it was unclear whether those who made it the farthest would wait for their countrymen to arrive to attempt a mass crossing into Mexico. The caravan, fairly compact in recent days, had dispersed a bit, with different bands of people seen walking together in a line. Some were boarding buses or trying to hitch rides.
Mauro Verzzeletti, a priest who runs the Casa del Migrante shelter in the Guatemalan capital, said about 3,000 people slept there overnight and left around 4am to continue the journey, adding “more are arriving”.
All along the way in Guatemala, the Hondurans found solidarity.
More than two million Guatemalans live in the United States. Sweaty, sunburned and exhausted, Jonathan Zuniga had been carrying his one-year-old baby in his arms for five hours when help arrived unexpectedly from a local woman who offered him a used baby carriage.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” Mr Zuniga told her, accepting the gift with a broad grin. “I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
Residents offered them food, water and rides in pickups or on flatbed of semi-trailer trucks.
Henry Tejeda, who hails from Puerto Colon, Honduras, stopped at the side of a highway in the eastern department of Zacapa along with a group of women and children to ask for money.
Mr Tejeda said he had left his wife and four children behind and was fleeing the poverty and rampant violence of his country – one of the world’s most dangerous by homicide rates. Four years ago his mother was murdered and his brother was also shot. “I am carrying the documents to prove I’m not lying,” Mr Tejeda said.