Hundreds of Central American migrants filed peacefully from Tecan Uman, Guatemala into this small southern Mexican border city on Thursday, the first large group from a caravan that launched from northern Honduras on Tuesday.
This third large caravan to cross to Mexico in less than a year is receiving a far warmer reception from Mexican authorities.
Above the Suchiate River, the scene at Rodolfo Robles Bridge was peaceful on Thursday afternoon as groups of migrants arrived at the port of entry to register their presence.
“Are you going to deport us?” asked Jayson Padilla, 19, from the northern Honduras city of San Pedro Sula as he approached an agent with Mexico’s migrant protection unit, Grupo Beta.
Quite to the contrary.
“By the instructions of the president, we offer the most cordial of welcomes,” the agent responded, and proceeded to explain the process going forward.
Mexico is offering the Central American migrants humanitarian visas, which will allow them to live and work anywhere in Mexico for up to a year, and travel freely without fear of deportation, threats from smugglers or shakedowns by corrupt authorities.
They can also, if they choose, apply for refugee status in Mexico. The process to complete the initial registration is expected to take about five days, and the migrants are being told they can wait on either side of the border while their petitions are processed.
“This card gives them the option to enter the country legally,” Martinez said. “They can decide if they want to remain and work.”
As the migrants patiently lined up, received identification bracelets, and followed instructions of Mexican immigration officers, the scene was a stark contrast from last October, when Mexican Federal Police blocked a group of Central American members from crossing the bridge.
The migrants responded by breaking down a barrier, throwing rocks and pushing their way through or wading across the river.
But this time the Federal Police were nowhere to be seen. Instead, groups of students in white t-shirts received the migrants as they stepped across the bridge, directing them to immigration authorities.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office on December 1, has vowed to protect the human rights of migrants who enter Mexico, even promising them jobs in future government development projects.
The arrival of this latest caravan will put these policies to the test as the migrants continue to enter Mexico and cross the country, many with hopes of entering the United States.
An estimated 2,000 people are expected to cross to Mexico as part of this caravan, less than a third of the number in a caravan left Honduras last fall, with the great majority of migrants ending up in Tijuana.
At a park in Tecun Uman on Thursday morning, hundreds of migrants applauded as Mexican immigration authorities told them they would be permitted to enter Mexico, but would be required to do so legally.
By nightfall, close to 969 caravan members had walked across the bridge into Mexico, said Ana Laura Martinez, an official with Mexico’s National Migration Institute.
That sum included 739 adult males, 230 adult females and 145 minors. The largest number, 766, came from Honduras. Another large group was forming in Tecun Uman and expected to cross early Friday.
Among those waiting in line was a group of nine friends from the Honduran municipality of Villanueva Cortés. The friends said they had left San Pedro Sula on Monday night, riding buses, walking, and getting rides as they crossed Guatemala.
Only one planned to remain in Mexico and apply for refugee status; the remainder said they were eager to find work in the United States.
Josue Castaneda, 24, said he had been unable to find work for the past two years, despite being certified as a refrigeration technician and beginning university classes.
“We know people who crossed to the United States, and are now much better off,” he said. “We don’t know anyone who crossed to Mexico and found better conditions.”
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