Special to USA TODAY
Published 7:09 PM EDT Oct 24, 2018
HUIXTLA, Mexico — The caravan of Central American migrants set out from this southern Mexican city in the predawn hours on Wednesday, inching up the coastal highway in the state of Chiapas toward the municipality of Mapastepec, roughly 40 miles away.
The mass of migrants ambling along the highway didn’t seem to know where they would end up on this day, but they do know their desired destination: the United States.
With U.S. midterm elections less than two weeks away, the caravan has become a hot political issue that President Donald Trump has pounced on to drive home his administration’s strict border security policies. In response to the caravan, Trump has vowed to send U.S. troops to meet the migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, threatened to further cut U.S. aid to Central American countries and accused Democrats and left-leaning groups of financially-backing the caravan.
The migrants and their supporters have said they have been forced to abandon their homeland countries because of corrupt governments, extreme poverty and horrific violence from gangs and other criminals where lawlessness rules.
“For those who want and advocate for illegal immigration, just take a good look at what has happened to Europe over the last 5 years. A total mess! They only wish they had that decision to make over again,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
“We are a great Sovereign Nation. We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally!” Trump added.
The Mexican government reported late Wednesday that the number of caravan migrants had fallen to 3,630 people. Those dropping out either applied for asylum in Mexico or chose to return home. United Nations officials, who are assisting Mexican authorities in reviewing claims of migrants, said Monday tha more than 7,200 people had participated in the caravan.
The Central American migrants come mostly from Honduras but also includes those from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Before hitting the road on Wednesday, many migrants camped in Huixtla’s central square after spending two nights there. Migrants slept on the streets, endured searing heat and torrential downpours and battled boredom as they rested for the next leg of their journey.
Generous locals saw them off with sandwiches, tamales and coffee. Cleanup crews moved in to sweep away the waste of what had resembled an impromptu refugee camp.
The caravan stretched for miles as migrants ambled along the Coastal Highway. Some in the caravan pushed strollers. Mothers breastfed their babies along the side of the roads, while fathers carried their kids on their shoulders.
Most of the migrants attempted to hitchhike and passing trucks would allow them to hop aboard.
A Red Cross ambulance followed alongside, offering water and attending to injuries.
Mexican immigration authorities operate internal checkpoints – similar in size to ports of entry on the border – including a modern facility between Huixtla and Mapastepec. The caravan flowed through that checkpoint without being stopped on Wednesday.
A dump truck with migrants riding on top and hanging off the sides also passed through without revision.
“Nobody knows where we’re going,” said Honduran migrant Nelson Mencía, 50, as he laced up a pair of black sneakers. “But the struggle continues.”
Mencía said his feet were blistered after walking for days. But he said he was “a little more rested” after the caravan paused for about 36 hours. He joined the caravan after growing tired of making extortion payments in the rugged Olancho region of Honduras. He showed no signs of giving up on his goal of going to the United States.
“I thought it was worth the risk to live a lot better,” he said of joining the caravan.
The mayor of Huixtla said approximately 200 people planned to either apply for asylum or return to Central America.
Oscar Rivera, a farmhand from western Honduras, was among those heading back.
“My girls couldn’t hack it any long,” he said dejectedly as he sat on the curb outside city hall, with his two daughters, ages 8 and 6, sleeping on a cardboard sheet.