With the American Dream in sight, migrant caravan reaches Mexico City

  • 6 Nov 2018

The caravan of migrants making its way through Mexico to the US became a major talking point for candidates and their stumpers during the US midterm campaigns.

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling from Central America en route to the United States, walk on the road that links Tapachula with Huixtla, Mexico, November 5, 2018. ( Reuters )

Thousands of Central Americans streamed into Mexico's capital on the eve of the US midterm elections. While the migrant caravan is theoretically a step closer to their goal of seeking asylum in the US, the closest border is still more than 900 kilometres away.

Here's what you need to know about the migrant caravan:

It’s not just one caravan

A group of people in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, started out for the United States on October 13. Over time, people from Guatemala, El Salvador and some from Nicaragua have joined the caravan, which has become a collective of caravans, each at a different pace, moving north.

The first Central American migrants from one of the caravans reached Mexico City on Sunday.

US-bound Central American migrants get on to a truck for a free ride, as part of a thousands-strong caravan moving through Puebla, Mexico. November 5, 2018.(AP)
A migrant receives mattress at a sport centre used as a shelter in Mexico City, Mexico November 05, 2018.(Reuters)

How many people?

Mexico's Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete puts the size of the lead caravan at 2,800 to 3,000, below the government's previous estimate of about 3,500. 

Participants in the caravan have put the number significantly higher.

Authorities counted more than 2,000 migrants entering the Jesus Martinez stadium by mid afternoon on Monday, and a steady flow continued into the night. 

Nashieli Ramirez, ombudsman for the local human rights commission, said the city was preparing to accommodate as many as 5,000 people. 

The lead caravan is estimated to have about 4,000 participants and several smaller groups are trailing hundreds of miles to the south.

Most previous caravans only carried a few hundred people.

Migrants begin their morning trek with a free ride on a truck as they leave Cordoba, Veracruz state, Mexico, November 5, 2018.(AP)

In search of the American Dream

In dozens of interviews since the initial caravan set out from Honduras, more than three weeks ago, migrants have said they are escaping rampant poverty and violence. 

Many are families travelling with small children. Some say they left because they were threatened by gang members or had lost relatives to gang violence. 

Others say they hope to work, secure a good education for their children and send money to support loved ones back home.

Migrants try to get food donations on the road that links Tapachula with Huixtla, Mexico, November 5, 2018.(Reuters)

Why travel in a big noticeable group?

Many in the latest group said they remain convinced that travelling together is their best hope for reaching the US.

But Edgar Corzo, an official with the National Human Rights Commission, said that based on experiences with previous migrant caravans, the group probably will begin to break up now that it is in the capital.

"Each one goes to the place that he considers best," mainly wherever is closest to where they have relatives or friends already in the United States, he said.

Migrants walk by the road that links Tapachula with Huixtla, Mexico, November 5, 2018.(Reuters)

Pitstop —  Jesus Martinez stadium

The facility has a capacity to hold 6,000, officials said, and four big tents set up for sleeping have filled up.

Early arrivals eagerly sifted through donated clothes, gave themselves sponge baths and ate chicken and rice. They then picked up thin mattresses to hunker down for the night. 

Much in demand were blankets to ward off the chill in a city more than 2,240 metres above sea level, a big change after trudging for three weeks in tropical heat, the Jesus Martinez stadium, in Mexico City, November 5, 2018.(AP)

What are their health problems?

Many of the migrants sought treatment for blistered and aching feet, illness, dehydration and other ailments. 

"Since we got here, we have not stopped," said Tania Escobar, a nurse with Mexico City's public health department, working at the treatment tent.

More migrants were trudging along the highway between the city of Puebla and the capital, trying to hitch rides from passing vehicles.

Migrants try to get water donations on the road that links Tapachula with Huixtla, Mexico, November 5, 2018.(Reuters)

The Trump reaction

US President Donald Trump has made the migrant caravan a central issue ahead of the key US midterm elections.

He seized on the caravan and portrayed it as a major threat, even though such caravans are not new and previously largely went by unnoticed. 

He ordered thousands of troops to the US-Mexico border when the migrants were still hundreds of miles to the south, threatened to detain asylum seekers in tent cities and has insinuated, without proof, that there are criminals or even terrorists in the group.

"That's an invasion. I don't care what they say," Trump said on Monday, referring to the thousands of migrants marching toward the border.

He suggested any rock throwing by migrants should be treated as equivalent to gunfire.

He has also threatened to slash US aid to Central America and close the US border with Mexico.

US Army soldiers install a barbed wire fence along Anzalduas International Bridge near the US-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, November 5, 2018.(Reuters)

What’s next?

The caravan had spread out in recent days, with some participants advancing at a faster pace. 

Many said the caravan would now regroup in Mexico City. 

Oscar Ulloa, 20, an accountant from Honduras who was able to travel to the capital by bus from Puebla thanks to handouts from Mexicans, said he expected the group to vote in the coming days on its next moves.

Young Central American migrants wait for their parents to sift through donated clothing at a sporting centre that has been turned into a shelter for them in Mexico City, November 4, 2018.(AP)

What if they enter the US?

The Immigration and Nationality Act says any immigrant in the United States can apply for asylum, whether or not the immigrant entered the country through a designated port of entry.