Thousands of migrants camp overnight in southern Mexico as they make their way towards the U.S. border.
MEXICO CITY â€”Â The mass exodus of migrants from Honduras and other Central American countries traveling in a caravan has swelled to 10,000 people.
But the caravan is still at least 1,000 miles away from the nearest border city in the U.S.Â and it could take a month or longer before the migrants achieve their goal of reaching the United States, said Alex Mensing, a U.S.-based organizer with the group Pubelo Sin Fronteras, which is providing humanitarian assistance.Â
On Wednesday,Â migrants traveling with the caravan began toÂ reachÂ Mapastepec, a town on the Pacific coast in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. They hadÂ traveled about 90 miles from the border with Guatemala since crossing into Mexico over the weekend.
It is still unclear which route they will take to reach the U.S., Mensing said.
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Estimates of the caravan’s size have varied widely. The U.N. reported Monday that about 7,200 people were in the group, while Mexico later said the size had dipped to 4,500 as people returned home or stayed behind to apply for asylum.
Mensing said the caravan included about 7,000 migrants mostly from Honduras who registered with Mexican officials after crossing the border from Guatemala and about 1,500 who had joined in recent days.
From Mexico City, Arizona Republic reporter Daniel Gonzalez gives an update on the migrant caravan on Oct. 24, 2018.
Nick Oza, azcentral.com
The caravan is making slow progress because they are traveling mostly on foot and by hitching rides on cars and trucks, Mensing said.Â Reports from the ground described parents pushing strollers or carrying children on their shoulders.
Migrants traveling through Mexico toward the U.S. typically ride freight trains, known as “la bestia,” the beast, but that is not possible with so many people traveling together at once, Mensing said.
“There isnâ€™t a normal route. The usual route is the train. But so many people canâ€™t enter by train,” he said in a conference call with media outlets.
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Rodrigo Abd, AP Moises Castillo/AP Johan Ordonez, AFP/Getty Images
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In March, a migrant caravan organized by Pueblo Sin FronterasÂ began in Tapachula with about 1,500 people. The caravanÂ arrived about a month later in Tijuana, after traveling a distance of about 2,500 miles.
By the time the caravan reached Tijuana, it had dwindled toÂ about 300 people, after many who started out headed off on their own or decided to remain in Mexico to apply for work visas or asylum.
The latest caravan continues to grow despite a steady stream ofÂ tweets from President Donald Trump, calling the group a national emergency and claiming that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” are mixed in with the migrants.Â
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway pushed back Wednesday on whether President Donald Trump was fearmongering over the Central American migrants’ caravan, describing it as a “very serious issue.” (Oct. 24)
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warnedÂ that the U.S. would not allow the caravanÂ to enter the U.S. illegally “under any circumstances.”
“From a security standpoint, there is no proper accounting of who these individuals in the caravan are, and this poses an unacceptable security risk to the United States,” Pompeo said. “Moreover,Â many of these people are ripe targets for humanÂ traffickers and other peopleÂ who would exploit them, and we donâ€™t want thatÂ to happen.”
Pompeo said he also has spoken twice with his counterpart in Mexico, Foreign SecretaryÂ Luis VidegarayÂ Caso, to urge the Mexican government to take “timely action” to resolve the crisis.
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U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., joined Trump in blasting the caravan, calling it an “army of illegal migrants” who have “malevolent intentions.”Â
“Hostile members of this ‘caravan’ proudly wave Honduran flags representing the country they are fleeing,”Â Biggs said in an op-ed published Tuesday by the Washington Examiner.
“Their supporters defaced the American flag with a swastika and then burned it,” he wrote, citing a claim that has been questioned or discredited.Â “Their conduct belies their claim of victim-hood. Their behavior indicates strongly that this army of illegal migrants have malevolent intentions.”Â
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“The organizers of this caravan are death and starvation,” Mensing said. “The truth is people who areÂ fleeing for their lives will do whatever they can to get in.”
MensingÂ also said that migrants from Central America have been traveling to the U.S.Â for years, but traveling in caravans hasÂ grown more popular as people have seen the success of previous caravans.Â
Migrants who join these caravans tend to be people who don’t have relatives in the U.S.Â or money to pay smugglers, he said. Joining a caravan offers a way of traveling to the U.S. in a relatively safeÂ manner than on their own, when they are more vulnerable to attacks by criminal organizations or abuses by Mexican authorities, he said.
People who arrive at ports of entry to the United States have a right to apply for asylum, which is what many caravan participants plan to do.
FollowÂ Daniel GonzÃ¡lez on Twitter:Â @azdangonzalez
A look at the Central American migrant caravan that reached the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year shows that only a few whom requested asylum were approved.