Migrant caravan halts during annual ‘Stations of the Cross’ protest as Donald Trump tweets threats to Mexico
The annual caravan of Central American migrants, which protests violence against Central American migrants in Mexico, stopped days ago in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca
The caravan of Central American migrants that angered US President Donald Trump was sidelined at a sports field in southern Mexico as Trump tweeted another threat to the country Tuesday.
“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our ‘Weak Laws’ Border, had better be stopped before it gets there”, Trump wrote.
“Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen.”
The caravan that once numbered 1,150 or more people actually halted days ago in the town of Matias Romero in the southern state of Oaxaca, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) south of where participants slept out in the open.
The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our “Weak Laws” Border, had better be stopped before it gets there. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
The “Stations of the Cross” caravans have been held annually in southern Mexico for about 10 years.
They began as short processions of migrants, some dressed in biblical garb and carrying crosses, as an Easter-season protest against the kidnappings, extortion, beatings and killings suffered by many Central American migrants as they cross Mexico.
The organised portions of the caravans usually have not gone much farther north than the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
This year’s event seems to have got more notice in the US, and Trump has sent some angry tweets that raised hackles in Mexico, which in recent years has detained and deported hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants before they could reach the US border.
After days of walking along roadsides and train tracks, the organisers now hope to get buses to take participants to the final event, an immigrants’ rights conference in the central state of Puebla later this week.
Bogged down by logistical problems, large numbers of children and fears about people getting sick, the caravan was always meant to draw attention to the plight of migrants and was never equipped to march all the way to the US border.
“We have never seen a march of this size. It is unmanageable”, said Irineo Mujica, director of “Pueblo Sin Fronteras”, the activist group behind the annual symbolic event.
On Tuesday, the group – mostly Hondurans – spread out on blankets in walkways between buildings, on playing fields and on grassy spots between swing sets.
Young children kicked soccer balls through the dust and climbed on resting parents, killing time.
Adults gathered around the few power outlets to charge cellphones.
Women and children picked through piles of donated clothing, as volunteers ladled water boiled over a fire into cups with instant coffee and instant noodles.
On Monday, Mexican immigration officials began taking the names of people interested in filing for temporary transit or humanitarian visas in Mexico.
But Mujica said he did not know “if that was just to calm down Donald Trump’s tweets, or calm down Donald Trump”.
He said the group was waiting for the migration officers to return.
“If there is no response from Mexico, if this is just a tactic to stop us, we will have to go on”, Mujica said.
About 150 men already did break off from the march Sunday, hopping a freight train north, probably with hopes of trying to enter the US.
But the rest of the migrants at the camp seemed unlikely to move again until Wednesday or Thursday.
Mujica said about 300 to 400 say they have relatives living in Mexico and so may consider staying here at least temporarily.
“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S.
“They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!” Trump wrote in one.
Mexico’s interior secretary, Alfonso Navarrete Prida, rejected such pressure.
“We will act with complete sovereignty in enforcing our laws,” he said Monday. “Of course we will act … to enforce our immigration laws, with no pressure whatsoever from any country whatsoever.”
In a statement late Monday, Mexico’s government said that about 400 caravan participants had already been sent back to their home countries.
“Under no circumstances does the Mexican government promote irregular migration”, the Interior Ministry statement said.
But it added that Mexico considers the annual caravans to be “a public demonstration that seeks to call attention to the migration phenomenon and the importance of respecting the rights of Central Americans.”
The US government has been kept fully informed of the situation, it said.
The department also said that unlike in previous yearly caravans, “this time Mexican immigration authorities have offered refugee status” to participants who qualify.
But it suggested it is not up to Mexico to keep people from going to the US to apply for asylum.
“It is not this government’s responsibility to make immigration decisions for the United States or any other country, so it will be up to the appropriate authorities of the United States to decide whether to authorise the entry of the caravan participants to US territory”, the statement said.
Navarrete Prida had said earlier that he talked with US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday about handling migration “in accordance with each country’s laws”.
Nielsen later tweeted that their talk focused specifically on the annual migrant caravan.
“Working with Mexican officials to address the yearly illegal alien caravan. Exploring all options”, she wrote.
Mexico routinely stops and deports Central Americans, sometimes in numbers that rival those of the United States.
Deportations of foreigners dropped from 176,726 in 2015 to 76,433 in 2017, in part because fewer were believed to have come to Mexico, and more were requesting asylum in Mexico.
Mexico granted 3,223 asylum requests made in 2016, and 9,626 requests filed last year are either under review or have been accepted.
Deportations continued at about the same pace in the first two months of 2018, with 15,835 people returned to Central American countries.