Hundreds of Honduran migrants have crossed the Guatemalan border as they travel in the direction of the United States.
The group that reached Guatemala on Tuesday is the first wave of a caravan that could consist of thousands. It’s the first national border crossed by the migrants on their journey that started Monday night.
Some migrants told reporters they were looking for new opportunities in the U.S. Some said they were fleeing violence. But no matter their reason for seeking a new life, they have already become symbols in the ongoing battle between President Trump and congressional Democrats over border security as the government shutdown enters its 26th day. Trump seized on news of the caravan as another reason to fund his proposed border wall.
“A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border from Honduras,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Tell Nancy [Pelosi] and Chuck [Schumer] that a drone flying around will not stop them. Only a Wall will work. Only a Wall, or Steel Barrier, will keep our Country safe! Stop playing political games and end the Shutdown!”
This caravan is different from the one that traveled to the U.S. in October, reporter Maria Martin tells NPR. “This particular caravan appears to be composed of disparate migrant groups, each traveling at its own pace.”
The first group of several hundred who arrived at the Guatemalan border was held at the border checkpoint of Agua Caliente for several hours as officials checked documentation. Many were then allowed to enter Guatemala, but some unaccompanied minors were returned to Honduras or placed in the care of Guatemalan welfare agencies, Martin reports.
“One caravan member said he wasn’t afraid of President Trump and his threat to build a wall,” Martin adds. “Many said joining the caravan was their only option, due to a lack of opportunities in Honduras.”
Honduran officials have estimated the caravan consists of between 800 and 1,000 people, The New York Times reports. Honduras’ National Human Rights Commission says there could be as many as 2,000 migrants in the caravan. Some are traveling by foot, and some hitched rides to the Guatemalan border.
“We are going out of necessity, because of the poverty,” a former police officer, Edilberto Hernandez, told the AP. After losing his job he could find only low-paid construction work, he said. He was traveling with his wife and four children.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said the U.S. is “closely monitoring” the caravan. “To be clear — participation in a caravan does not grant you a special status or provide you special treatment,” she said.
The earlier caravan became a pivotal issue in the midterm elections, as Trump used the specter of hordes of criminals crossing the border to energize his base. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials hardened the border in November as they prepared for the first caravan’s arrival, installing concertina wire and positioning barricades. U.S. agents fired tear gas at members of that group of migrants, who they said were trying to breach the border.
If this caravan reaches the U.S., migrants wishing to seek asylum will join thousands of migrants from October’s caravan who are still waiting their turn to apply, The Washington Post reports.
“I want to apply for asylum in the U.S., but I would stay in Mexico if I had to,” 23-year-old Jimmy Senteno, traveling with his 5-year-old daughter, told the Post. Senteno said he hadn’t been able to find work in Honduras, and he was afraid to leave his house because of gang violence. So he decided to take his chances with the caravan. “I know only some in the last caravan made it, but I have to try.”