MEXICO CITY – Thousands of Central American migrants who have made their way north gather in Mexico City before deciding whether to travel to the US border as a very large caravan or in smaller groups, migrants and activists.
An estimated 6,000 Central American migrants gathered in a sports stadium near Mexico City Airport on Tuesday afternoon to use as a sanctuary for federal and local authorities. After a grueling 25-day trek, migrants were medically treated, provided with food and given legal advice by parts of three countries.
Some activists said the plan was to stay in Mexico City to wait for thousands of other migrants in at least two other caravans in southern Mexico before deciding whether to join the group, which could surpass 10,000 people Would pull north. The activists warned, however, that the plans could change at any time.
Such a move could complement the political struggle for migration in the US. In the days leading up to parliamentary elections on Tuesday, President Trump made the caravans a top campaign issue. They said they were a threat to the US, which Mr. Trump had not promised to seek asylum in the US and ordered to send up to 15,000 troops to the US-Mexico border.
The caravans, which include hundreds of migrants marching with children and babies, are part of a new dynamic in which migrants come together as they pass through some of the world's deadliest areas and avoid stopping expensive human smugglers, so-called coyotes. But visibility, which protects migrants, could make it harder for them to cross, say activists and immigration experts.
ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AGENCE FRANCE PRESS / GETTY IMAGES
The caravans have given a face to the normally more invisible migration between Central America and the United States. According to US Border Patrol statistics, an average of 450 Central American migrants were arrested every day on the southern border of the United States last year. This means that a caravan of approximately 6,000 migrants is less than two weeks long, since not all undocumented migrants from Central America are arrested.
Migrants in the caravans say that they have left poverty and violence that they hope will hit the American dream.
After several weeks on the road, the migrants were thrilled to be in Mexico City, a city that marks approximately halfway through their migration to the US border.
"It's a great achievement for me to be here in Mexico City. My baby and I have suffered hunger, thirst, fatigue, sun and rain. But we have not given up and I'm proud of it, "said Cindy Milla, a 23-year-old single mother from Honduras, when she breastfed her 10-month-old son. She wants to reach the US-Mexico border and apply for asylum in Tijuana, which borders San Diego.
Exhausted migrants rested on tarpaulins in huge tents set up by local officials or spread out sleeping bags in the bleachers after wandering in the daytime under tropical storm during the day and tropical rainfall during the day. Groups of men played cards while teenagers organized a football game on a nearby field.
The workers also provided meals with rice, beans, hard-boiled eggs and bread rolls. One volunteer said the dining tent provides nearly 20,000 meals a day.
While there seems to be no consensus as to when they should leave, many migrants have been cheered because they have the strength to move north and move to the US next
Rodrigo Abeja, a leader of People Without Borders, a group of migrants who have provided logistical support, said it was about resting for two weeks in Mexico City and waiting for the other two caravans. Their presence in the capital could also serve to protest and gain more visibility of their plight, he said.
Ireneo Mujica, the head of People Without Borders, has stopped migrants from traveling to the US border in a single group. They said it was synonymous with a "declaration of war" that could further fuel the political passions north of the border.
But many of the migrants are committed to staying together.
"If it were up to me, we would all arrive together at the border. We have rights, and Donald Trump is not the owner of the world, "said Walter Coello, a Honduran migrant who is part of a nine-member informal administrative and dialogue committee elected by the migrants to coordinate their activities.
Mr. Trump has pressured Mexico to stop the caravans. Mexico offered all migrants an asylum option here, and around 3,200 applied immediately after crossing the country's southern border with Guatemala. But the vast majority want to go to the USA.
"Almost none of them are planning to seek asylum in Mexico," said Jacqueline Centeno, an employee of the National Human Rights Commission, which supports migrants in Mexico City. "They are planning pretty much everything to go to the US They are animated by the size of the caravan and they are thrilled with the idea of reaching the limit."
Enrique Flores, 32, a burly construction worker from the outskirts of the southern Hondurian town of Choluteca, left the house in mid-October with his girlfriend and two children, Sojey, a one-year-old girl, and Ian, 4. He said he had not left for more than two years worked two days a week, and members of Barrio 18 and MS-13, the two dominant gangs in Honduras, threatened his mother and nephew.
"You can not imagine what it's like to offer your children nothing: no education, no work, no future," he said, bursting into tears. "At age 9, the gangs try to remove their children from the family."
Mr. Flores said he plans to seek asylum in the US and hopes that he will come to New York, where he has friends who have previously emigrated.
Many migrants use the time in Mexico City to obtain information about asylum applications in the US. The Institute for Migrant Women (IMUMI), a Mexican non-profit organization founded in 2010 by American and Mexican human rights lawyers, supports women and youth kids trekking north.
"You must know that the chances of moving to the US are very low and imprisonment is likely, OK?" Says Maddie Boyd, an American law student working as an intern at IMUMI, two Honduran migrants.
"The first thing you need to tell them in a clear voice is," I'm scared to return to my country. "You have to stay calm, that's very important," she adds. She said that around 2,500 migrants are waiting to enter the Tijuana border crossing to seek asylum. She and other lawyers urged migrants to enter the US legally via a border checkpoint and not cross illegally.
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