MEXICO CITY – Around 900 Central American migrants left Mexico City on Friday for the longest and most dangerous leg of their journey to the US border, while thousands more waited another day in a massive improvised shelter.
The group, which had a head start, bundled their few possessions and set off, taking a subway to the north of the city and then walking down the expressway with a police escort.
For many, it was the first time they were in a metro system, and they had little knowledge of the city or the 2,800-kilometer route to Tijuana ahead of them.
Carlos Castanaza, a 29-year-old plumber from Guatemala City, wrapped himself from head to toe in a blanket against the cold and asked the spectators where the first toll booth was. When he learned that it was in a city about 30 kilometers away, he carefully wrote the name of the city with a pen on his hand to remember where he wanted to go.
After Castanaza was deported to Connecticut for a decade without a driver's license, he was determined to return to his two US-born children. "I've been back for over a year, but I could not wait for the caravan to get through," said Castanaza. "That's why I joined the caravan."
The advanced group hoped to reach the northern city of Queretaro, about 170 kilometers northwest, at dusk.
Meanwhile, at least 4,000 migrants were struggling for the massive shelters improvised and impatiently left in a sports complex in Mexico City.
Ninety percent of the remaining migrants will leave the stadium early Saturday on their long trek to Tijuana. First, the metro will be taken from the Mexican capital to the northern exit, said Nashieli Ramirez, director of the Mexican Human Rights Commission.
From there, they would cross the Mexican cities of Queretaro, Guadalajara, Culiacan and Hermosillo on their way to the American border, Ramirez said. 400 Mexicans had decided to stay in Mexico City.
State Governor Queretaro Francisco Dominguez said the migrants would stay in the state capital in the Corregidora Stadium and the authorities were ready to accept 4,000 people.
Meanwhile, the migrants in the stadium south of Mexico City became impatient.
"Let's go, let's go!", Said Eddy Rivera, 37, a Honduran immobile migrant who said he could no longer stay in the camp. "We're all sick of moisture and cold," said Rivera, leaving four children and a wife in Honduras. "We have to go, we have to go to Tijuana."
Although he was not sure how an unskilled farm laborer like him should be allowed in the US, he had a simple dream: making money to build a small home for his family in Puerto Cortes, Honduras.
Thousands of migrants have enjoyed peace and quiet over the past few days, receiving medical attention and debating how to proceed with their arduous trek through Central America and Mexico, which began in mid-October. On Thursday, representatives of the caravan met with representatives of the local United Nations office and called on buses to take them to the border. The hike was too difficult and dangerous for walks and hitchhiking.
Caravan coordinator Milton Benitez said officials had offered them buses for women and children, but the organizers demanded they be there for everyone. On Friday, the migrants said they were so angry at the lack of help from the UN.N. that they no longer wanted US observers with the caravan.
The United Nations rejected Friday's offer and issued a statement stating that the agencies were "unable to provide the transportation required by some members of the caravan."
The migrants attached great importance to keeping together, their only form of self-protection.
The 35-year-old Felix Rodriguez from Choluteca, Honduras, has been in the Mexico City sports complex for over a week.
"We all want to move," he said. But he waited for the main group to leave on Saturday, and remarked, "It's better to leave in a group because going in small bunches is dangerous."
Mexico City is more than 600 miles from the nearest US border crossing in McAllen, Texas. However, the area around the Mexican border towns of Reynosa, Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo is so rich in drug gangs that migrants consider it too dangerous.
A former caravan in the spring opted for the longer route to Tijuana in the extreme northwest opposite San Diego. This caravan steadily shrank to just 200 people when it reached the limit.
"California is the longest route, but the best border, while Texas is the closest but the worst border," said Jose Luis Fuentes of the National Lawyers Guild.
Mexico has provided migrants with refugee, asylum or work visas, and the government has indicated that 2,697 temporary visas have been issued to individuals and families to cover them while awaiting the 45-day application process for a more permanent status , On Wednesday, a bus from Mexico City left 37 people to return to their countries of origin.
But many want to continue towards the US.
Authorities say most have rejected offers to stay in Mexico, and few have agreed to return to their home countries. About 85 percent of the migrants come from Honduras, others from the Central American countries Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
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