Migrant caravan in south Mexico demands corridor to border

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — An estimated 2,000 migrants walked out of this southern Mexico city Friday, saying they are not interested in visas and permits the government has issued in efforts to dissolve other caravans and calling instead for buses to the U.S. border.

The latest group comes just two weeks after an even larger one left Tapachula, coinciding with a summit of hemispheric leaders hosted by the United States. Some 7,000 of those migrants were issued temporary documents and transit visas allowing them to board buses and continue north through Mexico.

The documents usually give migrants a month or more to regularize their status in Mexico or leave the country.

The Mexican government has been using the issuance of such documents since last October to periodically lower pressure from swelling migrant numbers in the south. But instead of traveling to other states to normalize their status in areas less congested than Tapachula, migrants have used the documents to travel to the U.S. border.

But migrants walking Friday said that authorities in other parts of Mexico have not respected those documents and many migrants were returned to the south.

“The march doesn’t want a 30-day permit. The march doesn’t want a humanitarian visa,” said Venezuelan Jonathan Ávila, one of the group’s self-appointed leaders. “We want organizations and the government ... to set up a humanitarian corridor.”

He said they want buses to carry them to the U.S. border. “The visa doesn’t work,” he said. “With the visa they return us, they tear it up.”

Authorities in some northern border states blocked many of the migrants who were issued documents after joining the larger caravan this month. Others traveling in smaller groups managed to cross the border into the U.S.

Last week, Héctor Martínez Castuera, a high-ranking official in Mexico's National Immigration Institute, said in a news conference in the border city of Piedras Negras that the intention of the temporary documents was for the migrants to legalize their status in Mexico — not travel to the U.S. He said the migrants had been told as much, but many decided to head to the U.S. nonetheless.

At an initial highway checkpoint on the outskirts of Tapachula Friday, authorities watched the migrants pass without intervening.

Frustrated migrants have long complained about Mexico’s strategy of containing them in southern Mexico, where there are fewer job opportunities. The Mexican government has essentially left only the path of applying for asylum for the migrants, which many do not qualify for and which has overwhelmed the system’s capacity, creating delays.

“(The wait) is too big of an expense,” said Colombian Janet Rodas, traveling with her Venezuelan partner and a baby. She said migrants spend days crisscrossing Tapachula between the detention center, asylum agency and other offices. The runaround makes it difficult to work or make it to meals for those staying in shelters.

Many migrants carry debts for their trip and feel pressure to get to the United States, where they can find work and begin paying them off.

Carlos Guzmán of Honduras joined the caravan with his wife and five children. They had been given an initial appointment with the asylum office for September.

“It’s too much time they gave us for the appointment,” he said. “That’s why we decided to walk.”

This week, nongovernmental organizations that visited Mexico’s border with Guatemala, said they observed abuses by authorities.

Melissa Vertiz of the Working Group on Immigration Policy, said that Mexico’s National Guard must stop working as immigration authorities and that migrants should be allowed to pursue normalizing their status in other parts of Mexico, not be confined to the south.

Mexican Sen. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, who accompanied the organizations, warned that the situation in the south was a time bomb that could generate violence.

“There’s no awareness of the humanitarian crisis the southern border is experiencing. There’s no sense of the dimensions of what happens here,” he said.

The caravans have formed in recent years as migrants who sought safety in numbers or who could not pay smugglers banded together. But they represent a fraction of the usual migration flow through Mexico that happens largely out of sight.

The days of walking in tropical heat and rain quickly take a toll on participants in the caravans. Sometimes authorities move to detain exhausted participants, but more recently the government has sought to avoid potential conflict and instead issue temporary documents to dissolve the caravans.