MEXICO CITY – The migrant caravan embarked on another stage towards the US border on Saturday, continuing its journey north from Mexico City after the Trump government curtailed asylum options for unauthorized immigrants. The group had waited almost a week in the capital and heard information about the militarization of the border and the US midterm elections.
The members of the caravan seemed unperturbed and confirmed that a return to their home countries was not possible. They boarded the subway before dawn to reach the outskirts of the Mexican capital.
The most pressing question: how long would it take to drive the 1700 miles to Tijuana on the California border? Many vowed that they would eventually enter the United States.
The Trump government's new measures announced on Thursday denied asylum to people entering the United States from the official ports of entry. These inmates may seek a lower status known as "deportation restraint" or protection under the Convention against Torture. Both would temporarily prevent them from being deported, but they offer no path to permanent legal status.
All travelers entering through official ports of entry will continue to be able to apply for asylum.
"If God wants it, we will ask for political asylum at the border," said Lourdes Martinez, 25, from La Ceiba, a coastal town in Honduras. She said she did not foresee any problems because she would not violate the law. "I'm going to one of the bridges, not over the river or anything like that."
She was convinced that she had managed to travel to the United States with her husband and four-year-old daughter because they had fled the forced recruitment of the MS-13 gang in their hometown. Even when lawyers from the US in Mexico were warned that the family could be detained for more than a year during an asylum procedure, they were not dissuaded.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the proclamation of the president hours before it came into force on Saturday. Trump's decree was still a problem among the lawyers, who stood out from the crowd with orange light hats in the stadium. Twenty of them walked around, offering 10-minute summaries on asylum to migrants sitting in the stands and in plastic tents in a sports stadium where the migrants in Mexico City slept.
"People do not understand their rights as asylum seekers or refugees, even if they have strong asylum applications," said Arturo Viscarra, a member of the US-based National Lawyers Guild. He noted that Central Americans have crossed the US border for decades.
But now, says Viscarra, "they have incredible waiting times in the ports of entry" – a situation that will only worsen when the caravan reaches the border. Compulsory waiting times at official, sometimes week-long border crossings have resulted in people being illegally crossed. Viscarra said he has documented cases in the border town of Reynosa, where migrants seeking asylum at bridges were rejected and then traversed between the ports of entry to ask US authorities for asylum following their detention.
This will be impossible under the new rules, at least for the next 90 days.
Some members of the caravan did not want to hear such discouraging news. Sofia Sanchez, 40, of Cofradía, Honduras, who was traveling with her nephews, said she focused more on the unity of the caravan than on hypothetical problems.
"They bring down our morale by telling us that families could be separated," Sanchez said. "I believe that God will help us and we want to reach the other side of the border."
Trump's train is for anyone crossing the border without documents, but he was seen as a precautionary step against the caravan that annoyed the president since leaving Honduras in mid-October. A former caravan also traveled to Tijuana in the spring, where 401 people finally applied for asylum. However, the government reported that she allegedly illegally crossed caravan members.
Rodrigo Abeja, a member of the activist collective Pueblo Sin Fronteras, who helped coordinate the caravan, said that the single men looking for work were the most likely to move between the ports of entry, while others – whole families, women with Children – unaccompanied minors or LGBTQ migrants – would rather seek asylum.
Although many were not sure what decision they would make at the border, they were no longer prepared to sit and debate in the Mexico City sports stadium.
"People have no reason to wait here," he said. "Many people want to reach the limit where they can wait, but with the help of their family networks."
Migrants who receive financial support from relatives in the United States do not intersect immediately, but save money to pay a smuggler for asylum or prepare evidence for their asylum applications. Others opt for a stay in the cities of northern Mexico.
On Thursday, the marchers had a nightly vote to set their final destination. Many gathered around a map of the Red Cross that showed the traditional ways to the border. A few of them reached Texas, cities like Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa, while another headed for Tijuana. The crowd chose Tijuana, even though it was farther away than any other city with a port of entry because it was considered safer and the route allowed it to avoid territory dominated by cartels.
The migrants tracked the train lines on the map and tried to measure the distances. In the morning, their bags were packed. Nearly 1,000 members of the group left on Friday.
The estimated 4000 others in the group eventually opted to wait until Saturday as they urged their demand that the United Nations provide them with buses, a request that was not fulfilled. They feared that walking for weeks would be particularly difficult for children who were increasingly ill and exhausted on their way.
According to Mexican authorities, nearly 2,700 people have left the caravan received a temporary grant while he was being processed for refugee status in Mexico. In each of the cities where the group had already stopped, a small number decided to return home. Most, however, decided to travel further north.
"We do not know if we should go illegally because we see the situation is complicated," said Marlon Miralda, 23, who traveled with his two older brothers from Honduras. "Even if I ask for asylum, there is a chance that they will send me back to my country."