(Bloomberg) -- A caravan of as many as 3,000 migrants is testing Mexico’s pledge to President Donald Trump to halt undocumented arrivals to the U.S.
For the first time since Mexico began its full-scale crackdown against migrants, hundreds of caravan members clashed with Mexican security forces at the country’s southern border. After being turned away at a bridge crossing, they waded across a shallow river Monday from the Guatemalan side into Mexico.
Later in the day, migrants could be seen throwing objects at Mexican National Guard troops who were repelling them, according to media footage. One video showed women and children caught up in the clash.
Mexico defended its actions Tuesday, saying that it’s receiving thousands of migrants from Central America with respect for human rights and offering jobs and refuge. The forces have been deployed to Mexico’s northern and southern border since last year.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that about 1,000 migrants who entered the country by force Monday had clashed with security forces, who he praised for avoiding a “tragedy.” He said at a news conference Tuesday that of 2,400 migrants who arrived over the weekend, about 1,000 have asked to be voluntarily returned, mostly to Honduras.
Mexico faced generalized tariff threats from Trump last year if it didn’t slow the number of Central American migrants reaching the U.S. In response, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador deployed thousands of National Guard troops, helping bring down the number of crossings dramatically from a peak last spring.
“Trump’s threats led to a revision of what was going on at the southern border,” said Jesus Cantu, a spokesman for Lopez Obrador, in an interview Monday. “Mexico isn’t acting as a retaining wall. All risks were identified, and what Mexico is doing is adhering to the law.”
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The caravan could be used by Trump to attack Mexico, especially in the run-up to the presidential election this year, said Carlos Bravo, a political scientist at Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching.
“With the U.S. elections coming up, Trump will have the resource of using Mexico as a piñata,” Bravo said. “That’s why Mexico is doing what it’s doing” to try and stop the caravan.
Over the weekend, Mexican National Guard troops had shut the gates of a border bridge to prevent caravan members from entering and used pepper spray to keep them at bay. But that didn’t stop some from crossing the river.
On Friday, before the clashes, Lopez Obrador had promised caravan members jobs. “We have more than 4,000 jobs available at the southern border,” he said.
More than 1,000 migrants opted for that path over the weekend and were transported to Mexican immigration centers for processing, according to The Associated Press.
But immigrant rights groups warned that they may just have been rounded up in order to be deported. The Mexican government in a statement issued Sunday said that most of the 1,087 migrants it received from the border in Chiapas and Tabasco will be returned to their countries “should the situation merit it.”
(Updates with comments from Mexico’s foreign minister throughout.)
--With assistance from Eric Martin.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lorena Rios in Mexico City at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at email@example.com, Nacha Cattan, Dale Quinn
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