TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — A new, smaller caravan of about 1,500 migrants started walking north from southern Mexico on Thursday, a week after a larger group that set out on Christmas Eve largely dissolved.
The migrants, most from Central and South America, said they had grown tired of waiting in Mexico’s southern city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border. They said processing centers there for asylum or visa requests are overloaded and the process can take months.
The migrants carried a sign reading “Migrating is not a crime, it is a crime for a government to use repression against migrants.”
The group managed to walk past two highway control checkpoints Thursday as immigration agents and National Guard troopers stood by.
Migrant Alexander Girón said he left his native El Salvador because his wages did not cover basic necessities.
In previous years, many people left El Salvador because of gang-related violence. But even though the Salvadoran government has brought down the homicide rate with a tough crackdown on gangs that has imprisoned tens of thousands, Girón said he still had to leave.
“Safety isn’t enough if there is no work,” said Gíron, who was traveling with his wife and two teenage sons in hopes of reaching the U.S. “Wages just can’t keep pace, everything is very expensive. We are going to look for work and to give our sons a better life.”
The earlier Christmas Eve caravan once numbered about 6,000 migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Central America. But after New Year’s Day, the Mexican government persuaded them to give up their trek, promising they would get some kind of unspecified documents.
By the next week, about 2,000 migrants from that caravan resumed their journey through southern Mexico, after participants were left without the papers the Mexican government appeared to have promised.
The migrants wanted transit or exit visas allowing them to take buses or trains to the U.S. border. But they were given papers restricting holders to Mexico’s southernmost Chiapas state, where work is scarce and local residents are largely poor. By last week, only a hundred or two had made it to the border between neighboring Oaxaca state and the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, mainly on buses.
Mexico in the past let migrants go through, trusting they would tire themselves out walking along the highway. No migrant caravan has ever walked the full 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to the U.S. border.
U.S. officials in December discussed ways Mexico could help stem the flow of migrants at a meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
López Obrador confirmed that U.S. officials want Mexico to do more to block migrants at its border with Guatemala, or make it more difficult for them to move across Mexico by train or in trucks or buses — a policy known as “contention.”
Mexico felt pressure to address the problem after U.S. officials briefly closed two vital Texas railway border crossings, claiming they were overwhelmed by processing migrants. That put a chokehold on Mexican exports heading to the U.S. and on grain moving south for Mexican livestock.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said the spike in border crossings seen in December across the southwest U.S. border coincided with a period when the “immigration enforcement agency in Mexico was not funded,.”
López Obrador later said the financial shortfall that led Mexico’s immigration agency to suspend deportations and other operations had been resolved and some deportations were later resumed.