Published 8:06 PM EDT Oct 23, 2018
An estimated 7,200 Central American migrants marching toward the United States are defying borders, law officers and America’s president, whose repeated threats have failed to shake their quest for asylum at America’s southern border.
Calling it "an assault," President Donald Trump said he would send as many troops to the border "as necessary" to stop the migrants' caravan, which on Tuesday was at least 1,100 miles from the nearest U.S.-Mexico border entry in McAllen, Texas.
The migrants have pushed past police with riot shields. Jumped on makeshift rafts. Slept stranded on a bridge without food or water. Trudged miles through multiple nations.
And along the way they’ve talked to journalists. Their words, collected here from USA Today, The Associated Press and foreign media outlets offer a glimpse at why men, women and children would endure the harsh uncertainty of the caravan — and why it’s better than what they left behind.
Why they won’t turn back: ‘I don’t care if I die’
Olivin Castellanos, 58, a truck driver and mason from Villanueva, Honduras, told the AP that he took a raft into Mexico. He hopes to work in construction in the United States.
“No one will stop us, only God,” he said Sunday after migrants streamed into Mexico from Guatamala. “We knocked down the door and we continue walking.”
“We are going to get to the border of the U.S.,” Luis Puerto, 39, of Colon, Honduras, said in English. “I am not going to stop. I don’t care if I die.”
“On this journey, one doesn’t eat well, sleep well and never rests,” Maria Lourdes Aguilar, 49, told Guatevision, the Guatemalan TV channel. Aguilar is traveling with her two sons and four grandchildren under 10.
“We’re used to it. Our own president doesn’t want us, it doesn’t matter to us that Trump doesn’t want us either,” she said.
Why they left: Death threats, extortion and poverty
In Honduras, Cristian repaired cell phones. In America, he’d do anything.
“I want to get to the States to contribute to that country,” he told the AP last week, “to do any kind of work, picking up garbage.”
Cristian, 34, shuttered his small business and left San Pedro Sula after gang members demanded $83 per month in protection payments — a fifth of his income. He has four daughters, and declined to give his last name after gangsters threatened him.
Jimenez Flores, a truck driver, faced death threats after he called the police on a gang that attacked his brother.
“I spent four months hidden,” he said. “I couldn’t even go into the street. I can’t go back.”
Alba Luz Giron Ramirez, a mother of three and former shop worker, left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, after gangs killed her brother and threatened her. On Friday, she stood in a throng of women with small children at the border gate from Guatemala to Mexico.
"Please ... Let us pass,” she pleaded to border authorities. Her son Ramon, 5, spoke quietly.
“We want them to give us permission to go to Mexico,” the boy said. “We wouldn’t stay.”
More: Exclusive: Trump vows as many troops at border ‘as necessary’
Gerson Monterosa, a factory worker, fled Honduras after a group of young men demanded roughly $200 a month in “rent” — meaning extortion — just for living in his own home. (One in five Hondurans live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.)
“They gave me a piece of paper saying that if I didn’t pay them they were going to kill me,” Monterosa said this week. “They gave a week or they were going to burn down the house.”
José Anibal Rivera, 52, an unemployed security guard from San Pedro Sula, crossed into Mexico by raft Sunday and joined the caravan. “There are like 500 more people behind me,” he told the AP.
Why they won't heed warnings: ‘There isn’t a single terrorist here’
President Donald Trump this week claimed, with no evidence, that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” were mixed into the caravan. But AP journalists traveling with the caravan for over a week have met no Middle Eastern people, nor has caravan organizer Denis Omar Contreras.
“There isn’t a single terrorist here,”Contreras told AP, noting 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.”
More: Small Mexican town teeming with caravan migrants
Though migrants know that they’re less than welcome by Trump and others in the countries they pass through.
“We know very well that this country (Mexico) did not welcome us the way we had hoped and we know that we can return to Honduras and we also know that there are narcotraffickers who kidnap and kill migrants,” Juan Carlos Flores, 47, told Guatevision.
“But we live in greater fear in our country, as so we continue forward.”
Scarleth Cruz, 21, said she left oppression in Honduras but would take political asylum in Mexico.
“Why would I want to go to the United States if I’m going to be persecuted” there as well, she said.
Contributing: Associated Press, Sergio Bustos of USA TODAY and David Agren