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Migrant Caravan Amasses in Mexico as Trump cautions against foreigners aid cuts

TAPACHULA, Mexico – Thousands of Honduran migrants gathered in this southern Mexican city early Monday to decide when to make a murderous trip to the US border. President Trump threatened to stop or curtail the Central American countries.

Some caravan leaders said that the migrants, most of whom crossed the Mexican border illegally, would later move north on Monday to the south of the state of Oaxaca and rest for a few days before deciding whether to break up in groups.

Honduras and Guatamela's 10-day caravan march to Mexico sparked a new political divide between their leaders and Mr. Trump two weeks before the US midterm elections.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Mr. Trump said he had warned the US Border Police and the military that the caravan was a national emergency. He criticized El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico for not arresting the group or slowing down the influx of migrants, calling for a revision of the US immigration laws and admonishing its supporters: "Remember the Midterms!"

The caravan has grown to about 5,000 since October 12, when several hundred people decided to move north. The numbers grew rapidly as local media and social activists drew attention to the caravan. Leftist politicians gave them more visibility by criticizing the Honduran government for not providing economic opportunities domestically. After a pilgrimage through Guatemala, the caravan arrived last Wednesday Tecun Uman on the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

At the weekend, Mexican border officials refused to let the caravan enter the country. They said they would allow only about 150 people to apply for asylum at the same time. The caravan then broke up in groups. At least a few hundred people returned to Honduras by bus, and another chunk said they would accept Mexico's asylum offer. But a third group, which appeared to be the largest, crossed the river illegally and used rafts occupied by human smugglers.

Mexico seemed unable or unwilling to stop this last group.

On Monday, this group had settled by the thousands in the central square of this coastal city, still near the Guatemalan border. Many were children, some of them wore shoulders. Many migrants were visibly exhausted and hungry after 10 days of relentless travel. Most were sleeping outside in the square, using their backpacks as pillows.

The group is facing a difficult journey through some of Mexico's most violent areas. There are several routes, including a 1,100-mile trip to the border town of Reynosa, opposite McAllen, Texas, or a much longer 2,420-mile hike to Tijuana, across from San Diego.

"We can not all come together to the northern border," said Irineo Mujica, head of People Without Borders, a US charitable organization that has supported the caravan since she arrived in Guatemala. "You can not move a group that's hundreds of miles across. Impossible."

He also said that a huge caravan moving through Mexico just days before the US would encourage Trump. "If this full caravan comes to the US border, it would be like an explanation if there was a war," said Mr. Mujica.

Others remained confident that the caravan could remain united and reach the US border. "The plan is to come to Tijuana! The fight continues, we do not give up," said Denis Contreras, a Honduran migrant and social activist who uses a loudspeaker in his hand to help organize the caravan.

Most migrants say they want to go to the US, but they generally do not know what legal options they have. Many said they were determined to leave Honduras, one of the world's highest violent acts. When they saw news on television that a caravan had left San Pedro Sula heading north, many thought it was the time to go.

"I was in my apartment near Tegucigalpa when I saw it [my news] Channel that the caravan went, "said Maria Rodriguez, 17, who said a criminal gang blackmailed his family business." I said to myself: this is my chance. "

She said the gang demanded a "war tax" and called it that because if you do not pay, the gang will destroy your business and kill you.

Mexican officials had repeatedly warned migrants that someone illegally crossing the river would be deported. But so far, Mexico has not moved against the caravan.

A spokeswoman for the Mexican Migration Agency said the border between Mexico and Guatemala was permeable. "There are many informal entry points" along the river, she said. "Anyone who has entered illegally will be deported."

On Sunday, Mr. Trump warned the migrants in a message on Twitter that they would be denied entry to the US if they did not accept Mexico's asylum offer.

The White House has not said how the US would change the amount of aid it sends to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. According to the State Department, the US is planning to spend about $ 70 million on Guatemala, $ 66 million on Honduras and $ 46 million on El Salvador for the 2019 financial year. Most of the funding goes to violence prevention, justice and the rule of law, and to financing border and drug control.

Mr. Trump has occupied the caravan to mobilize the Republicans before the November 6 election. In the US border states of Arizona and Texas, close Senate races are held. On Monday, the president warned his supporters, "Remember the midterms!" He also claimed, without evidence, that the caravan bore "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners."

A caravan of some 3,000 refugees fleeing Honduras continues to gather near Guatemala's border with Mexico when President Donald Trump threatened to use the military and close the US-Mexico border. Photo: Reuters

The immigrant caravan puts Mexico in a difficult position, said Jorge Chabat, an expert in American-Mexican relations at the University of Guadalajara. Mexican officials have long said patrolling the entire border is difficult. Despite this, Mexico has deported a growing number of Central Americans in recent years, in part under pressure from the United States.

"There is pressure from Trump to bring the migrants back, but how do you do that with the thousands who crossed each other without an incident that could kill someone?" Said Mr. Chabat. "But if you let them all in, you'll have four more caravans tomorrow."

Honduras has closed one of the three main border crossings with Guatemala since Saturday after two migrants loaded trucks broke through a line of Honduran police in Guatemala.

Moises Starkman, a professor of political economics at the Universidad Tecnica de America Central in Honduras, said he believes immigration from Honduras to the US will continue unabated in the foreseeable future.

"The magnet of the American dream is very strong," he said. "Depending on what happens with this caravan, many more people will go."

Write on Juan Montes at juan.montes@wsj.com

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