Trump says he has alerted military to 'national emergency' of migrant caravan

David Agren in Tapachula and agencies in Washington

Pentagon say it has received no new orders as president vows to cut aid to Central America

Thousands of mostly Honduran migrants crowded into the Mexican border city of Tapachula over the weekend after trekking on foot from the Guatemalan border. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has said that he has alerted the military and federal border authorities that a US-bound migrant caravan from Central America was a “national emergency”, and warned that the United States would begin curtailing aid to the region.

A Pentagon spokesman, however, said the Pentagon had received no new orders to provide troops for border security.

According to the United Nations, more than a week after 160 migrants set out from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, the caravan has gradually grown to more than 7,200 people.

Members of the caravan, currently moving slowly through southern Mexico have said that they are fleeing abject poverty and the violence that has turned the region into one of the most dangerous in the world.

Trump, in a series of posts on Twitter, gave no other details about his administration’s actions.

“Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the US. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote.

US administrations long have seen aid programs as an essential part of efforts to stabilize the countries of Central America and stem the flow of migrants leaving. Cutting the aid could lead to further migration north.

The US president also made an apparently baseless claim that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the migrants; journalists traveling with the caravan say that it is composed of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans.

“This is the caravan of Hondurans with broken dreams,” said Berlin Sánchez, 22, who fled his home country with his wife, Melida Núñez, 24, to escape extortion by gang members.

“If we can’t enter the US, we’ll stay in Mexico. We can’t return to Honduras. The day I get back, I become another crime statistic,” he said.

The couple were among the thousands of migrants slowly heading north from the Mexican border city of Tapachula on Monday, hoping to make it 40km (25 miles) up the road to the town of Huixtla.

Sánchez said that the couple had eked out a living from a small food stand, but had to flee after tattooed gangsters demanded a payment of 50,000 lempiras ($2,000) – more than twice what they earned in a month. The gang members told them to pay up within a week on pain of death. “You can’t deal with them,” Sánchez said.

One of the caravan’s organisers, Denis Omar Contreras, from the group Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders) said Trump should stop accusing the caravan of harbouring terrorists.

“There isn’t a single terrorist here,” he said. “We are all people from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. And as far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt governments.”

Thousands of mostly migrants crowded into the Mexican border city of Tapachula over the weekend after trekking on foot from the Guatemalan border, defying threats by Trump that he would close the US-Mexico border if they advanced, as well as warnings from the Mexican government.

Mexican police in riot gear shadowed the caravan’s arrival along a southern highway but did not impede the migrants’ journey.

Trump, who has made immigration a central part of his platform, earlier threatened to halt aid to the region, and potentially close the US border with Mexico with the help of the military if the migrants’ march is not stopped.

He and his fellow Republicans have sought to elevate the caravan as a campaign issue before the midterm elections that will determine whether the party can maintain its hold of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Trump travels to Texas, a key border state, later on Monday to campaign for the Republican US senator Ted Cruz. Cruz, who challenged Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and who is seeking re-election.