Migrants marooned in Guatemala plan surge into Mexico

Migrants marooned in Guatemala plan surge into Mexico
Honduran migrants gather at a temporary shelter in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, on the border with Mexico, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. More than 2,000 migrants spent the night in Tecun Uman on the Guatemalan side of the border, uncertain of their next steps. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (AP) — Denis Contreras, a Honduran making a second try at reaching the U.S., laid out the plan Sunday night to his fellow migrants marooned in this Guatemalan border town: First the men will go, then the families and the women traveling alone with children.

More than a thousand Central American migrants were preparing to again walk en masse early Monday across a bridge leading to Mexico in an attempt to convince authorities there to allow them safe passage through the country.

It’s a big ask. Over the weekend Mexican troops slammed the welcome gate shut on the Rodolfo Robles bridge as hundreds of migrants pressed forward in an effort to force their way through. Mexican soldiers in riot gear pushed back against the green metal bars of the fence. Nobody was injured.

Contreras, the pint-sized Honduran leading Monday’s charge, said he won’t give up. He was already denied political asylum and deported from San Diego, California. But if he returns to Honduras, he said, criminal gangs will kill him or his family.

Around him, hundreds of migrants chanted: “Here we are, and we’re not going anywhere, and if you throw us out, we’ll return!”

Mexico has stepped up efforts in recent months to prevent migrants from reaching their desired final destination — the U.S. — under threat of trade and other sanctions from President Donald Trump.

As these most recent caravans approached, Mexico sent soldiers to patrol its southern border and monitored the area with drones. Migrants sometimes travel via caravan for greater safety and, they hope, success in reaching the U.S.

Prior caravans have persuaded Mexican authorities to let them cross the southern border, either for humanitarian reasons or via brute force.

The Mexican government declared its efforts over the weekend a success, saying late Sunday that the migrants’ attempts to enter the country in a “disorderly fashion” were “fruitless.”

Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, described the Mexican weekend response as a shift from the way the country handled previous caravans arriving at its doorsteps.

“The Mexican government has made clear they are not offering any visa that could be used to travel north, and that anyone traveling without proper documentation will be detained, sending a strong signal to the Trump administration that the Mexican government is doing its part to ensure that the members of the caravan don’t reach the U.S. border,” Meyer said.

Mexican officials extended a different welcome mat, of sorts, over the weekend, promising the migrants work and a chance to stay in the country — though the details were slim and many migrants feared they would instead be deported.

The offer of employment, and not just legal status or asylum, represented a new twist in Mexico’s efforts to find humane solutions to the mostly Central American migrants who are fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries.

More than 1,000 migrants opted to give Mexico a try, and were transported by van to immigration centers for further processing.

Claudia León, coordinator of the Jesuit Refugee Service in the town of Tapachula, described the roundups backed by vague promises of employment as “de facto detention” that could trample the rights of refugees.

It was unclear what sort of work Mexico had in mind for the migrants, considering that half the Mexican population is poor and millions are unemployed.

Late Sunday, the Mexican government issued a statement saying that “in the majority of the cases,” the hundreds of migrants it had received in recent days would be returned to their countries of origin “should the situation merit it.”


Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. reported this story in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and AP writer Maria Verza reported from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. AP writer Amy Guthrie in Mexico City contributed to this report.