Ciudad Hidalgo (Mexico) (AFP) – Hundreds of Central American migrants surged into Mexico Thursday, wading unopposed across a river on the Guatemalan border where Mexican troops had used tear gas earlier in the week to keep them back, AFP journalists at the scene reported.
Once on the other side of the Suchiate river, the migrants quickly formed a column and began a trek on foot to Ciudad Hidalgo, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Thousands of Central Americans have crossed Mexico toward the United States in caravans in recent years, fleeing chronic poverty and brutal gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
On Monday, Mexican National Guard troops fired tear gas to force back migrants attempting to cross, leading to scenes of chaos as huge crowds of people flailed across the Suchiate River.
About 500 were able to enter the country illegally, though more than 400 of them were later arrested at a roadblock.
– Deportations –
The interior ministry said it deported 460 Hondurans via official planes and buses from the country’s two southern states.
An AFP correspondent saw large groups of them being rounded up along a highway and loaded onto buses and trucks — some after trying and failing to run away.
Mexico’s migration authority said the country was ready to welcome foreigners as long as they entered the country in a “lawful, safe and orderly” way.
Immigration authorities reinforced security at the border, which seemed to be enough to deter migrants from trying to cross. They eventually retreated to the nearby Guatemalan town of Tecun Uman.
But at dawn they returned, and encouraged by the absence of security forces at that time, simply paddled across the river, reduced to a dry-season trickle.
“We want to speak with President Lopez Obrador directly,” read one long cloth banner held up as the column reached the outskirts of Ciudad Hidalgo.
Others waved flags from their countries, as well as a giant US banner.
“We are coming peacefully,” some of the migrants shouted as they walked.
The so-called “2020 Caravan” left Honduras on January 14, gathering local migrants as well as people from El Salvador and Nicaragua as it made its way across Guatemala to the border with Mexico.
– 3,500 in caravan –
Central American immigration authorities put the number of people travelling in the caravan at around 3,500.
The bulk of the caravan crossed into Mexico at the weekend, where immigration authorities began implementing a government plan to offer jobs and shelter to migrants to encourage them to stay in southern Mexico.
However, most wanted to be allowed to move freely through Mexico to the US border, citing their intention to seek asylum in the United States to escape poverty and gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist who came to office vowing to protect migrants’ rights, said 4,000 jobs were available to migrants from the new caravan if they remain in southern Mexico.
Mexico faces pressure to keep migrants from crossing its northern border from US President Donald Trump, who last year threatened to impose steep tariffs if the country did not do more to stop a surge of undocumented Central Americans arriving at the US-Mexican border.
Lopez Obrador deployed some 26,000 troops to the country’s borders in response.