(EFE).- A huge caravan of nearly 15,000 migrants, the most numerous to date, departed the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas on Monday with the goal of reaching the United States.
That journey was timed to coincide with the beginning of the Summit of the Americas, a five-day event in Los Angeles where the immigration issue will be a major focal point.
The first priority for this group of mostly Venezuelan, Central American and African migrants is to find a new National Institute of Migration (INM) office and regularize their situation in Mexico, since they have been unable to do so in Tapachula, a city near the Guatemalan border.
Undeterred by a heavy downpour, they set off walking at 6.30 am and covered themselves as best they could with umbrellas, cardboard, plastic bags, ponchos and towels.
During the initial stretch of their journey, they walked for more than eight kilometers (five miles) and passed an initial checkpoint manned by members of the National Guard – a police force created in 2019 and used mainly to boost enforcement of immigration law – and the INM, who merely observed the passing caravan.
The director of the non-governmental organization Centro de Dignificacion Humana (Center for Human Dignity), Luis Rey Garcia Villagran, said a total of 5,000 families have joined the caravan, including nearly 93 pregnant women and 3,000 children.
“This migrant crisis must be addressed in accordance with the law. Humanitarian visas for one year, immediately, that are valid in national territory,” Garcia Villagran, an activist known for accompanying and championing the rights of migrant caravans, told Efe.
STRANDED IN SOUTHERN MEXICO
John Romero, a Venezuelan migrant, told Efe that he and his family have been trying unsuccessfully to obtain a humanitarian visa he says was promised to them in the past by Mexican authorities.
They have an immigration appointment scheduled for some time within the next three months, but he said they needed to head northward because the risk was too high that the police would detain them and deport them to Guatemala.
“We don’t want to stay in Mexico. We want to leave. That’s why we’re going with everything.”
BRINGING PRESSURE ON SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
This latest caravan is designed to bring pressure to bear on the Summit of the Americas, which will run from Monday to Friday in Los Angeles and aim, among other things, to reach a regional agreement on strengthening immigration cooperation.
With chants of “freedom, freedom, we’re migrants, not criminals!” the members of the caravan departed with suitcases, water bottles and the hope they will be able to advance northward unimpeded.
Adrian Castillo, another Venezuelan, said the goal of the march is to underscore migrants’ need to leave Tapachula.
The migrants want Mexican authorities to help to the extent they can, “since we all want to go to North America to change the way we’re living,” he said.
The caravan’s goal on Monday is to advance at least 18 kilometers (11 miles)
The caravan is the latest manifestation of the wave of migration to the US, whose Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency recorded a record total of more than 1.7 million illegal border crossings in the 2021 fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30.
Since the 2022 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2021, the CBP says that more than 1 million migrants have been intercepted along the US’s southern border.
Mexico, for its part, says it deported more than 114,000 foreigners in 2021, the highest number in nearly 15 years, according to figures from the Migrant Policy Unit. EFE
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