Migrant caravan in southern Mexico demands passage to border

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TAPACHULA, Mexico – An estimated 2,000 immigrants walked out of this southern Mexican city on Friday, saying they were not interested in visas and permits issued by the government in a bid to cancel other convoys and calling instead for buses bound for the US border.

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

The documents usually give immigrants 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 reduce pressure from the bloated migrant numbers in the south. But instead of traveling to other countries to normalize their status in less crowded areas of Tapachula, immigrants used the documents to travel to the US border.

But migrants walking on Friday said authorities in other parts of Mexico did not respect those documents and many migrants were sent back to the south.

“The march does not want a 30-day permit. The march does not want a humanitarian visa,” said Venezuelan Jonathan Avila, one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the group. “We want organizations and the government … to establish a humanitarian corridor.”

He said they wanted buses to take them to the US border. He said, “The visa is not working.” “With the visa they bring us back, they tore it up.”

Authorities in some northern border states have blocked many migrants who obtained documents after joining the larger caravan this month. Others traveling in smaller groups were able to cross the border into the United States

Last week, Hector Martinez Castoeira, a senior official at Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, said at a press conference in the border city of Piedras Negras that the temporary documents were intended for migrants to legalize their status in Mexico — not travel. To the United States, he said, immigrants have been informed as much, but many have decided to head to the United States nonetheless.

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

Frustrated immigrants have long complained about Mexico’s strategy to contain them in southern Mexico, where there are fewer job opportunities. The Mexican government has basically just left the way to apply for asylum to immigrants, for which many do not qualify and which has overwhelmed the capacity of the system, causing delays.

“(Waiting) is too expensive,” said Colombian Janet Rodas, who was traveling with her Venezuelan partner and a baby. She said migrants spend days in Tapachula transit between the detention center, the asylum agency and other offices. It makes escape from work or access to meals for those staying in shelters.

Many immigrants incur debts for their journey and feel pressured to get to the United States, where they can find work and start paying it off.

Carlos Guzman of Honduras joined the caravan with his wife and five children. An initial appointment has been set for them with the Asylum Office in September.

“They gave us plenty of time for the appointment,” he said. “That’s why we decided to walk.”

This week, NGOs that visited Mexico’s border with Guatemala said they had noticed abuses by the authorities.

Melissa Vertez of the Immigration Policy Working Group said the Mexican National Guard should stop serving as immigration authorities and that migrants should be allowed to continue normalizing their status in other parts of Mexico, and not be confined to the south.

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

There is no awareness of the humanitarian crisis plaguing the southern border. There is no sense of the dimensions of what is happening here.

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

Walking days in tropical temperatures and rain quickly affect the caravan participants. Sometimes authorities move to detain exhausted participants, but recently the government has sought to avoid potential conflict and instead issue temporary documents to resolve the convoys.

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