…New group of migrants heads for US after leaving El Salvador***
Several thousand Central American migrants planned to resume their trek through southern Mexico before dawn Monday, while authorities in that country and Guatemala tried to sort out the killing of a migrant at a border crossing.
On Sunday, while the band of migrants was resting and reorganizing in Tepanatepec, several hundred in another group more broke through border barriers in the Guatemala town of Tecun Uman just as members of the caravan did more than a week earlier. Those migrants clashed with Mexican authorities determined not to let the caravan grow or be repeated.
The new group, whose members called themselves a second caravan, gathered on the international bridge leading from Tecun Uman to Mexico. Guatemalan firefighters confirmed that a 26-year-old Honduran was killed from a rubber bullet hitting his head.
At a news conference late Sunday, Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida denied that his country’s forces were responsible.
He said that Mexican federal police and immigration agents were attacked with rocks, glass bottles and fireworks when migrants broke through a gate on the Mexican side of the border, but that none of the officers were armed with firearms or anything that could fire rubber bullets. Navarrete said some of the attackers carried guns and firebombs.
“Mexico does not criminalize undocumented immigration,” he said.
Also on Sunday, about 300 Salvadorans departed from San Salvador hoping to make their way to the U.S. as a group.
Meanwhile, some of the migrants in the initial caravan, now estimated at 4,000 people, rested Sunday in the shade of tarps strung across the town plaza or picked up trash in Tapanatepec, population 7,500. Others soaked themselves in the nearby Novillero river.
Tensions from a long trek through searing heat with tenuous supplies of food and other goods spilled over Saturday night when a dispute in a food line devolved into a beating. Many in the caravan have been on the road for more than two weeks, since the group first formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Raul Medina Melendez, security chief for the tiny municipality in Oaxaca state, said the town was distributing sandwiches and water to migrants camped in the central square Saturday night when a man with a megaphone asked people to wait their turn.
Some hurled insults at the man with the megaphone, then they attacked him, Medina said. Police rescued the man as he was being beaten and took him to a hospital for treatment, though his condition was not immediately clear.
On Sunday, several in the caravan took to microphones to denounce the attack.
“Is that the way we’re going to always behave?” a woman from Honduras asked.
Others complained of trekkers smoking marijuana or warned that images of litter and uneaten food made them appear disrespectful.
The group planned to set out early Monday for Niltepec, 54 kilometers (33 miles) to the northwest in Oaxaca state.
The caravan still must travel 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to reach the nearest U.S. border crossing at McAllen, Texas. The trip could be twice as long if the migrants head for the Tijuana-San Diego frontier, as another caravan did earlier this year. Only about 200 in that smaller group made it to the border.
Most of the migrants in the caravan appeared determined to reach the U.S., despite an offer of refuge in Mexico.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a program Friday dubbed “You are home,” which promises shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans who agree to stay in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca, far from the U.S. border.
Mexico’s interior minister said Sunday that temporary identity numbers had been issued to more than 300 migrants, which would allow them to stay and work in Mexico. The ministry said pregnant women, children and the elderly were among those who had joined the program and were now being attended at shelters.
He said 1,895 had applied for refugee status in Mexico.
In the meantime, a new group of migrants bound for the US has set off from El Salvador, following thousands of other Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence who have taken similar journeys in recent weeks.
The group of more than 300 Salvadorans left the capital San Salvador on Sunday. A larger group of mostly Hondurans, estimated to number at least 3,500, left that country in mid-October and is now in southern Mexico. That group has become a key issue in US midterm elections.
A third group has been moving through Guatemala, at one point numbering more than 1,000 before beginning to fragment. Hundreds broke through a Guatemala border gate in Tecun Umanand on Sunday afternoon were on the bridge into Mexico.
Migrants say joining a large group offers a measure of protection against police officers and bandits.
Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to make immigration a major issue ahead of the 6 November elections, in which the party is battling to keep control of Congress.
Homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News Sunday Trump was determined to use every authority he had to stop immigrants crossing the border illegally.
“We have a crisis at the border right now,” she said. “This caravan is one iteration of that but frankly we essentially see caravans every day with these numbers.
“I think what the president is making clear is every possible action, authority, executive program is on the table to consider, to ensure that it is clear that there is a right and legal way to come to this country and no other ways will be tolerated.”
Statistics from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) show that illegal border crossings have declined significantly from record highs in the early years of the century.
Last year, 396,579 undocumented people were apprehended after entering the US illegally. In 2000, more than 1.6 million illegal border crossers were apprehended.
Trump has threatened to shut down the border with Mexico and last week said he would send troops. On Friday, defense secretary Jim Mattis authorized the use of troops and other military resources at the US-Mexico border.
Many migrants currently in southern Mexico have said they intend to apply for asylum. US authorities are obliged by both international and domestic laws to consider all such applications.
By Sunday afternoon, dozens of Salvadorans had arrived at the border with Guatemala and were having their documents checked, having walked and hitched rides in pickups and on buses from the capital.
They organized using social networks like Facebook and WhatsApp over the last couple of weeks, inspired by the larger group in Mexico.
Salvadoran police traveled with the group, who carried backpacks and water bottles and protected themselves from the hot sun with hats.
El Salvador’s leftwing government said it had solidarity with the migrants and respected their right to mobilize, but urged them not to risk their lives.
In Mexico, the original group of Hondurans, exhausted by constant travel in blistering heat, spent Sunday resting in the town of Tapanatepec, Oaxaca. They planned to head north at 3am on Monday.
“It’s far … the farthest yet,” said Honduran Bayron Baca, 26, pulling open a map that Red Cross volunteers had given him.
Dozens took dips in a nearby river to refresh from the trek, which has covered an average 30 miles a day.
Fox News with additional report from Guardian UK