Another large group of migrants, this one from El Salvador, was preparing to cross into Mexico from Guatemala on Thursday, the second large wave in less than two weeks to begin the long trek to the United States.
Mexican immigration officers had begun allowing groups of 50 to 200 migrants to cross the international bridge across between Tecun Uman, Guatemala and Ciudad Hidalgo, to give them the chance to apply to remain in Mexico as refugees.
But migrants gathered in Guatemala, near the Mexico border, said they feared the offer was a trap aimed at arresting and deporting them.
The migrants, who numbered about 1,000 in all, said they had no intention of remaining in Mexico and were determined to reach the United States, despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to stop them.
Trump has deployed at least 5,200 active duty military troops to the southern border and has said that number could reach10,000 to 15,000.
The migrants said they are fleeing extreme poverty and gang threats, which they believe qualifies them to enter the United States and apply for asylum.
“We don’t want to stay in Mexico,” said Luis Alberto Perdomo, 30, from Usulutan, El Salvador. “Mexico is as bad as our country.”
He was standing in the main plaza of Tecun Uman, where a Mexican immigration officer had just explained that country’s offer to allow small groups of migrants to cross the international bridge and apply for asylum.
About 500 migrants lined the plaza, some said they were waiting for a much larger group to arrive on Thursday or Friday. Some of the migrants’ faces were covered with bandannas, which they said indicated they were from El Salvador.
Migrant caravan persists on foot in Mexico after bus plan falls through
Others said they didn’t want to wait and planned to cross Thursday afternoon. The migrants began chanting “Todos, todos, todos” — Spanish for everyone — signaling they wanted to enter together not in small groups.
The group intends to cross the river by wading, rather than storming the closed bridge as previous groups have tried, because they believe that creates a bad image and triggers a violent response.
The migrants said they want permission to pass freely through Mexico to reach the United States.
“The United States is a place that is safe from crime with plenty of jobs,” said Heriberto Meijia, 33, from Santa Barbara, El Salvador. “That is the country where we want to go.”
The bridge between Guatemala and Mexico along this part of the Suchiate River remains closed to prevent large groups of migrants from forcing their way into Mexico.
Days earlier, immigration officials intercepted a caravan of migrants who had successfully crossed the river, loading them onto buses along the highway.
On Thursday, Mexican federal police patrolled the riverbanks, joined by Mexican immigration officers and Mexican marines.
A Mexican immigration officer who was not authorized to speak said Central American migrants are being offered the opportunity to apply for asylum and remain in Mexico as long as they can produce passports from their home countries or other documents.
The process takes 45 days, he said. During that time migrants must remain in Tapachula or risk being arrested.
The offer appears to be part of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to offer Central American migrants an opportunity to live and work in Mexico, provided they stay in Chiapas and Oaxaca, two of Mexico’s poorest states.