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Large group, mostly Honduran, is stopped by Mexican authorities
The Mexican government has stopped a caravan of Central American migrants trying to reach the Mexico-US border as their presence in the country brought blistering attacks from the US president, Donald Trump.
In a statement issued on Monday night, the interior ministry and foreign relations ministry said the migrants had improperly entered the country and would be subject to administrative procedures.
“Under no circumstances does the government of Mexico promote irregular migration,” the statement said.
Approximately 400 caravan participants have already been removed from the country, according to the government.
Adolfo Flores, a BuzzFeed journalist covering the caravan, reported some of the migrants, such pregnant women and those with disabilities or chronic conditions, might be issued humanitarian visas. Everyone would have 10 days to leave the country or they could request a 30-day stay, during which time they could request permission to remain.
Organisers expected some of the participants to continue travelling north, though some would likely apply for asylum in Mexico.
Trump returned to the offensive on immigration on Monday, when he repeated a claim that “caravans” of migrants from Central America are threatening to enter the US via Mexico. He also demanded: “Act now Congress, our country is being stolen!”
“Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large ‘Caravans’ of people enter their country,” the president tweeted. “They must stop them at their Northern Border, which they can do because their border laws work, not allow them to pass through into our country, which has no effective border laws.
“Congress must immediately pass Border Legislation, use Nuclear Option if necessary, to stop the massive inflow of Drugs and People. Border Patrol Agents (and ICE) are GREAT, but the weak Dem laws don’t allow them to do their job. Act now Congress, our country is being stolen!”
Trump’s use of the term “caravans” – also made in a sequence of tweets on Easter Sunday – had been reported on by Fox News, Trump’s preferred cable network.
The “nuclear option” he referred to would be a reform of Senate rules to allow major legislation to pass with 51 votes rather than the current 60. The Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has shown no sign of acceding to Trump’s repeated demand.
Mexico’s interior minister, Alfonso Navarete Prida, told reporters on Monday: “It is absolutely incorrect to say that there is no effort in Mexico to regulate, support and mange migratory processes.”
Flores reported on Friday: “For five days now, hundreds of Central Americans – children, women and men, most of them from Honduras – have boldly crossed immigration checkpoints, military bases, and police in a desperate, sometimes chaotic march toward the United States. Despite their being in Mexico without authorization, no one has made any effort to stop them.”
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Organisers said some 1,300 people were participating in the caravan. Mexican immigration officials routinely detain and deport hundreds of thousands of Central Americans, who in recent years have streamed north to escape horrific violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Mexico deported 16,278 individuals in the first two months of 2018 – 97% of them were Central Americans.
The migrants’ paths through Mexico are perilous. Criminal gangs, often acting in cahoots with crooked public officials, prey upon migrants, often extorting them or kidnapping them for ransom.
Shelters run the length of the country, offering migrants a place to eat, rest and wash and tend to their wounds as they head north. The operators of these shelters expressed wariness with the caravan currently winding its way through southern Mexico, saying such attempts at moving migrants through Mexico often turn into targets for criminal groups.
Jorge Andrade, a spokesman for the shelters, says “polleros” – human smugglers – and other organised crime members have infiltrated previous caravans. People pretending to be migrants, meanwhile, joined in and started extorting actual migrants.
“It’s a real logistical challenge, in addition to security questions,” Andrade said. During a 2014 caravan that Andrade accompanied, “we realised that we had been infiltrated by people from organised crime, whom we could identify.”
Many of the participants in caravans inevitably are offered humanitarian visas, which allow them to temporarily remain in Mexico, or they file asylum applications.
Alex Mensing, project coordinator for Pueblos Sin Fronteras, which was accompanying the caravan, says the shelters in Mexico “do important work and caravan members have benefited from their services”. He added that migrants participating in the caravan would receive legal advice upon reaching the city of Puebla and some would likely seek asylum in Mexico.
“The people in the caravan are much, much less vulnerable to human rights abuses,” Mensing said.
On Monday, Trump widened his attack, tweeting: “DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon … No longer works. Must build Wall and secure our borders with proper Border legislation. Democrats want No Borders, hence drugs and crime!”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Daca, was an Obama-era programme that shielded undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers, from the threat of deportation.
“The [Trump] attack on Daca was designed to pit Central Americans against Mexicans and to put immigrants in the United States against immigrants who are trying to exercise their right to seek asylum in the the United States,” Mensing said.
Trump announced the cancellation of Daca last year. No replacement has been instituted but court orders have maintained protections for recipients.
Trump claimed on Sunday that “a lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of Daca, and we’re going to have to really see”.
In fact, to be eligible for Daca, applicants must have lived in the US continually since 15 June 2007 and come to the country before their 16th birthday. Applicants must also either be in school, or have graduated high school, or have been honourably discharged from the US military or coast guard.
Trump’s decision to quash any remaining hopes of a Daca deal drew criticism on Sunday. John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio who is seen as a possible primary challenger to Trump in 2020, tweeted: “A true leader preserves & offers hope, doesn’t take hope from innocent children who call America home. Remember, today is Easter Sunday.”
Trump rejected one deal with Democrats that would have funded a border wall, which he promised throughout his campaign for the White House would be paid for by Mexico. He has recently suggested the military could pay for the wall, a prospect experts said was extremely unlikely.
Later on Monday, Trump returned to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a favourite target which in his Sunday tweets he had threatened to “stop”. “Mexico is making a fortune on NAFTA,” he wrote, adding: “With all of the money they make from the US, hopefully they will stop people from coming through their country and into ours, at least until Congress changes our immigration laws!”
Polls in Mexico show people south of the border support Nafta, but don’t see themselves as big winners from the trade deal, which also includes Canada.
Regarding possible motives for Trump’s latest outburst, which also took in Amazon, NBC and CNN, news outlets reported White House sources as saying Trump has been told his base thinks he has softened on immigration.
The president has also been beset by damaging stories, from developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference and alleged collusion between Trump aides and Moscow, to adult film actor Stormy Daniels’ claim that she had an affair with the billionaire in 2006.
Controversies over ethics and spending are affecting members of the Trump administration, including the housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt.
On Sunday the former Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin told network television he was fired last week, rather than resigning as the White House claimed. Shulkin, who opposed the privatisation of VA operations, blamed political appointees for his downfall.