Several groups of Honduran migrants have joined a new caravan of people hoping to reach the United States potentially creating a new border crisis for the governments of the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.
The migrants left a bus terminal in the northern city of San Pedro Sula on Monday night and Tuesday morning, in disorganized fashion, taking different routes to the Guatemalan border using various forms of transport.
Young men with knapsacks and women and children boarded buses for the Guatemalan border while others started walking and hitchhiking as rain began to fall. Some pushed children in strollers or walked holding older children’s hands. One man pushed two infants in a shopping cart while others carried children on their shoulders. Some held blue and white Honduran flags shouting slogans against the Honduran government.
They left without much of a plan of where they would spend the next night. Some sat on the side of the road, waiting for trucks and buses to pass in the morning. Some huddled on the side of the roadway, waiting for trucks and buses that would pass in the morning. Others set their eyes on the border, where Honduran authorities announced that they had already started to detain minors who were traveling without proper documentation - even those who came who came with a parent were technically required to have a valid passport and a notarized letter from a second parent, nearly impossible for many of the migrants.
"The situation in our country has turned ugly. There's no work. Last year, I had work for two, three months," said Jairo Rivera, 31, as he walked down the side of the road on Tuesday after having set out the night before. He had carried his son, aged three, on his shoulders over the course of the night, but grew weary by morning. He said he earned 300 lempiras per day (a little over $12), but with irregular employment, it was not enough to live on.
"I do not want to be in this country anymore because I can't find a job," said another relative, Santos Daniel, 16. He was one of several in the group who said they planned to remain in Mexico, since his mother was already living in the southern state of Chiapas. "We're all going together, but when we get to Mexico, everyone will go their own way," he said.
Estimates by journalists at the bus station put the number as high as 1,500, almost twice the initial size of the last caravan that left in October and eventually swelled to an estimated 7,000 people. About 1,500 of them are currently camped at the U.S. border awaiting turns to apply for asylum, while thousands more dropped out along the way and were repatriated, or opted to apply for refugee status in Mexico.
More people continued to arrive at the bus station on Tuesday morning, making it likely the caravan’s numbers would grow.
The new caravan is likely to raise political tensions in the United States where a 24-day old dispute between President Donald Trump and democrats in Congress over the budget for border security has resulted a federal government shutdown.
"Only a wall will work"
“A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border from Honduras,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, adding that to stop the migrants, “Only a Wall will work. Only a Wall, or Steel Barrier, will keep our Country safe!”
Trump used caravans last year to rally his base ahead of the mid-term congressional elections.
The new caravan could also stress relations between Mexico’s new government and the Trump administration.
Honduras and Mexico have announced stricter controls to prevent illegal border crossings, but the crush of numbers last year easily overwhelm border guards. The first groups of migrants are expected to reach the border with Guatemala later on Tuesday, but it would likely take them at least a couple of weeks to the reach the U.S. border.
Last year many alternated between walking stretches of the route, taking buses or hitching rides on trucks and private cars. They slept out in the open, usually with volunteer help from local communities along the way.
Many of the migrants said they decided to leave with the goal of reaching the United States although they had heard that the results were not promising for those who traveled in the previous caravans. Carmen Flores, 39, and her sister Patricia Flores, 34, explained that they worked packing shrimp, but part-time wages were not enough.
Why join the caravan?
"We heard reports of the last caravan, of a man who died on a train," Carmen said, referring to recent news reports on the dangers of traveling north. "We heard that many people are stuck at the border," she added. But, her sister interrupted to recall that that was not the case with everybody. "Others managed to get across the other side, especially if they had relatives to help them," she said.
In the case of Carmen, she left behind her children, including a 15-year-old girl whose school fees she has to pay and a one-year-old son.
Univision spoke to one man who said he was a leader of the migrant caravan and asked not to be identified due to “the persecution we face” from the government.
He dismissed rumors about effort to destabilize the government by political opposition leaders, saying the caravan was an automonous movement that sprung up in the poor barrios among unemployed people disillusioned with the government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
“It's not the way they say it is,” he said referring to the government accusations of a plot by opposition politicians. “What you have here is the crisis of their making. What you have here is poverty,” he said.
No matter the obstacles he said they would find a way across the borders of Guatemala and Mexico. “We'll find a way … we'll cross in blind spots,” he said.
Many desperate Central Americans see the caravans as a safer, and cheaper, way to get to the border, avoiding having to pay up to $10,000 to unscrupulous coyotes.
One woman, who refused to give her name because of safety concerns, told AP that her nine-year-old daughter had been raped and was suffering medical problems.
The mother, who worked at a bakery, said she was taking her daughter and 13-year-old son to the United States and would ask for asylum or refugee status, “because it’s not possible to live in Honduras anymore.”
(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report)