Thousands of caravan migrants stopped at Mexico border with Guatemala clash with police

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On Friday, the migrant caravan of at least 3,000 broke down gates at the Guatemalan border with Mexico and streamed toward a bridge to Mexico. (Oct. 19)
AP

A caravan of U.S.-bound migrants broke down a border crossing Friday and streamed onto a bridge on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala in the face of a heavy presence of Mexican and Guatemalan law enforcement officers, according to media reports, Mexican and U.S. officials.

The travelers — made up of 1,500 to 4,000 people mostly from Honduras — were eventually stopped on the river crossing, according to video broadcast by the U.S.-based Spanish-language network Telemundo.

Some members of the caravan became so desperate they jumped from the bridge, trying to grab onto one of the makeshift rafts other migrants were using to cross the river into Mexico.

“Unbelievable sight on Mexican border.. tear gas.. rocks being thrown … caravan wants to enter … not able to right now,” tweeted Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart.

The network, which had reporters traveling with the caravan, showed Mexican police lined up along the fence holding it up against the waves of migrants trying to push past.

Caravan participants screamed that they were being fired upon with tear gas, but it was unclear from the video whether that was happening. Mexican officials vowed not to harm or mistreat any of the migrants, but tensions were high on Friday.

The group was on an early leg of a 1,100-mile sojourn to the U.S. border that President Donald Trump has made a key argument for his border policies in rallies leading into the midterm elections.

In a series of tweets this week, he angrily threatened to cut off aid to Central America and close the southern border with Mexico if their respective governments failed to deal with the situation.

The Associated Press initially reported that the thousands of migrants stopped about two blocks from the Guatemala-Mexican border crossing before turning around, saying they would wait another hour or so.

The border post was guarded by a heavy security force and tall metal gates, reported the AP. On the Mexican side of a border bridge, the migrants were met by a phalanx of police with riot shields. About 50 managed to push their way through before officers unleashed pepper spray and the rest retreated.

Mexican government officials were trying balance the need to enforce its immigration laws, treat the migrants in a humanitarian way and not further antagonize an unhappy White House.

The migration crisis at Mexico’s southern border happened the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was visiting with top Mexican government officials in Mexico City as part of a previously planned trip. 

Pompeo met with top Mexican officials, including Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, for confronting the caravan of migrants and harshly criticized caravan organizers.

He said the Mexican government deployed 500 federal police officers to the southern border with Guatemala, where at least four were injured.

“We don’t know the severity of those injuries, but I want to express my sympathy to those four policemen,” he told reporters traveling with him late Friday.

He accused the caravan organizers of using women and children as “shields” to attempt to cross Mexico’s border. 

“This is an organized effort to come through and violate the sovereignty of Mexico, and so we’re prepared to do all that we can to support the decisions that Mexico makes about how they’re going to address this very serious and important issue to their country,” said Pompeo.

The Mexican had sought the assistance of the United Nations refugee agency review asylum claims of caravan’s mostly Honduran migrants before they can make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The migrants told the AP they fleeing a corrupt government, poverty and violence in Honduras.

Cristian, a 34-year-old cell phone repairman from San Pedro Sula, said he left Honduras because gang members had demanded protection payments of $83 a month, a fifth of his income. It was already hard enough to support his four daughters on the $450 he makes, so he closed his small business instead. 

Cristian, who declined to give his last name because the gangsters had threatened him, estimated that about 30 percent of the migrants want to apply for refugee status in Mexico, while the rest want to reach the United States.

“I want to get to the States to contribute to that country,” Cristian told the AP. “to do any kind of work, picking up garbage.”

The mass of migrants arrived in the Guatemalan border town of Tecún Umán, where they slept on the streets and in a park and prepared Friday to cross the Suchiate River – which separates Mexico and Guatemala – and head northward to the U.S. border. Such migrant caravans are not uncommon as those heading north seek safety in numbers as the road through Mexico is rife with risks such as kidnap, rape and extortion. 

Mexico has said only those with the proper papers would be allowed entry into the country and dispatched two planeloads of Federal Police officers to the area –which is often so neglected that migrants simply float across the river in rafts into Mexico without having to clear customs.

Mexico said the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would help identify “legitimate” asylum claims from the migrants who are part of the caravan. 

The AP reported that police and immigration agents allowed small groups of 10, 20, 30 people through the gates to apply for refugee status. Once they filed a claim, they were permitted to go to shelter to spend the night.

More: Trump administration supports Mexico, UN plan to deal with caravan of migrants

Some in Mexico have questioned if the government’s plan to accept so many asylum applications would work, given the current backlog of claims and slow processing times.

Mexico has received a crush of asylum claims in recent years as many Central Americans consider Mexico a destination country or prefer to not risk crossing an increasingly fortified U.S. border. The country accepted 14,596 claims in 2017, more than six times the number of applications it received in 2104. In February, the National Human Rights Commission warned of the “pending collapse of the refugee protection system in Mexico” as half of all claims were still unprocessed.

Under the Mexican government’s plan, those migrants whose asylum claims get rejected would be immediately repatriated to Honduras and other countries, Gerónimo Gutiérrez, the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., told Fox News’ “Special Report” in an interview Thursday.

“We want to make sure that those claims are legitimate,” he said, noting a handful of migrants had already applied for asylum in Mexico.

The Mexican government warned caravan participants “of grave risks” by illegally entering Mexico, including, “the presence of human trafficking networks.” Migrants transiting Mexico are often preyed upon by police and criminal gangs and suffer indignities such as kidnap, rape and extortion.

Dissuading migrants from making northbound trips is difficult, however, as the risks often outweigh remaining in the country.

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  • TOPSHOT - Honduran migrants attempt to cross the border Goascoran River to enter illegally to El Salvador, in Goascoran, Honduras on October 18, 2018. - US President Donald Trump threatened Thursday to send the military to close its southern border if Mexico fails to stem the onslaught of migrants from Central America, in a series of tweets that blamed Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS / AFP)MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: 207 ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1A477L1 of 25
  • epa07104768 Rafters help Honduran migrants to cross the Suchiate River that divides Guatemala and Mexico in Escuintla, Guatemala, on 19 October 2018, from where they will continue their journey to USA.  EPA-EFE/ESTEBAN BIBA ORG XMIT: GU5022 of 25
  • epa07104770 Rafters help Honduran migrants to cross the Suchiate River that divides Guatemala and Mexico in Escuintla, Guatemala, on 19 October 2018, from where they will continue their journey to USA.  EPA-EFE/ESTEBAN BIBA ORG XMIT: GU5023 of 25
  • epa07104769 Honduran migrants rest in the Tecun Uman's park in Escuintla, Guatemala, 19 October 2018, before continue their way to Mexico. Migrants, who hope to arrive to the United States to seek better living conditions, slept in an open-air theater and in the Catholic church of Tecun Uman, a few kilometers from the Suchiate River, which divides Guatemala and Mexico, where a group of migrants has already started a new stage of the crossing.  EPA-EFE/ESTEBAN BIBA ORG XMIT: GU5024 of 25
  • epa07104767 Honduran migrants rest in the Tecun Uman's park in Escuintla, Guatemala, 19 October 2018, before continue their way to Mexico. Migrants, who hope to arrive to the United States to seek better living conditions, slept in an open-air theater and in the Catholic church of Tecun Uman, a few kilometers from the Suchiate River, which divides Guatemala and Mexico, where a group of migrants has already started a new stage of the crossing.  EPA-EFE/ESTEBAN BIBA ORG XMIT: GU5025 of 25
  • A woman, part of the group of Honduran migrants on the border of Honduras with El Salvador crosses the Goascoran River despite the increased flow caused by intense rains in the last hours, in El Amatillo, eastern Honduras, Oct. 18, 2018.6 of 25
  • A group of Honduran migrants on the border of Honduras with El Salvador continue their journey to the US at El Amatillo, eastern Honduras, Oct. 18, 2018. 7 of 25
  • Honduran migrants continue their march to the department of Escuintla to approach the border with Mexico leaving the Casa del Migrante shelter in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Oct. 18, 2018. 8 of 25
  • Migrants run to board a bus as part of a caravan of immigrants en route to the Mexican border in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Oct. 18, 2018. 9 of 25
  • Honduran migrants attempt to cross the border Goascoran River to enter illegally to El Salvador, in Goascoran, Honduras Oct. 18, 2018.10 of 25
  • A Honduran migrant holds up a replica of the Black Christ of Esquipulas as a caravan of migrants making their way to the U.S. arrives to Esquipulas, Guatemala, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. The Guatemalan police blocked the road of the caravan for several hours before allowing the migrants to continue on their way. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) ORG XMIT: XMC13711 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants pauses at a Guatemalan police checkpoint after crossing the border from Honduras on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221930212 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants moves north after crossing the border from Honduras into Guatemala on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221949213 of 25
  • A faint Honduran migrant woman is helped as Guatemalan police temporarily block the road after her caravan crossed the Honduras-Guatemala border without incident, in Esquipulas, Guatemala, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Police stopped the migrants for several hours but the travelers refused to return to the border and were eventually allowed to pass. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) ORG XMIT: XMC13614 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  Honduran immigrants overnight at an migrant shelter on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. A caravan of at least 1,500 Central Americans, the second of its kind in 2018, began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico in route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105227079615 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants moves north after crossing the border from Honduras into Guatemala on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221937816 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants pauses at a Guatemalan police checkpoint after crossing the border from Honduras on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221936217 of 25
  • Hondurans march in a caravan of migrants moving toward the country's border with Guatemala in a desperate attempt to flee poverty and seek new lives in the United States, in Ocotepeque, Honduras, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. The group has grown to an estimated 1,600 people from an initial 160 who first gathered early Friday in a northern Honduras city. They plan to try to enter Guatemala on Monday. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) ORG XMIT: XMC10618 of 25
  • epa07095951 Guatemalan policemen prevent Honduran migrants from crossing the Agua Caliente border, in Chiquimula, Guatemala, 15 October 2018. The migrant caravan aims to reach the United States fleeing the poverty and insecurity in their country  EPA-EFE/Esteban Biba ORG XMIT: GUA0819 of 25
  • A Honduran migrant holds up a replica of the Black Christ of Esquipulas as Guatemalan police temporarily block the road after the caravan crossed the Honduras-Guatemala border without incident, in Esquipulas, Guatemala, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. The caravan began as about 160 people who first gathered early Friday to depart from San Pedro Sula, figuring that traveling as a group would make them less vulnerable to robbery, assault and other dangers common on the migratory path through Central America and Mexico. The group has since grown to at least 1,600 people. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) ORG XMIT: XMC12720 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants moves north after crossing the border from Honduras into Guatemala on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221935021 of 25
  • Honduran migrants holds up their national ID cards as Guatemalan police block them and their caravan after the group crossed the Honduras-Guatemala border without incident, in Esquipulas, Guatemala, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Police stopped the migrants for several hours but the travelers refused to return to the border and were eventually allowed to pass.  (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) ORG XMIT: XMC13122 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants moves north after crossing the border from Honduras into Guatemala on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221945423 of 25
  • ESQUIPULAS, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 15:  A caravan of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants moves north after crossing the border from Honduras into Guatemala on October 15, 2018 in Esquipulas, Guatemala. The caravan, the second of 2018, began Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the United States. Honduras has some of the highest crime and poverty rates in Latin America.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775243532 ORIG FILE ID: 105221932024 of 25
  • Honduran migrants walk past a roadblock of Guatemalan police as they make their way to the U.S., in Esquipulas, Guatemala, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Police stopped the migrants for several hours but the travelers refused to return to the border and were eventually allowed to pass. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) ORG XMIT: XMC13425 of 25

Trump claims Democrats wanted caravan, ups immigration rhetoric ahead of western swing

Also: Trump: Aid will end to Central American countries allowing migrant caravan to head to US

USA Today’s Alan Gomez and Sergio Bustos contributed.

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