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New migrant caravan leaves from Honduras

Honduran migrants heading to the United States with a second caravan walk upon arrival at the customs in Agua Caliente, at the Honduras-Guatemala border, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 (Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

More than 1,000 Hondurans participating in the latest migrant caravan began heading by foot and in vehicles Tuesday toward neighboring Guatemala with the hope of eventually reaching the far-off U.S.-Mexico border.

“You’ve got to take a risk once in your life,” said Maricela Nunez, 27, who was among those embarked on the journey from this city in northwestern Honduras.

Some left San Pedro Sula late Monday and others departed in the predawn hours Tuesday, all headed west for Guatemala — from where they plan to cross into Mexico and then push overland toward the United States.

The size of the caravan — official estimates put the number at 800 to 1,000 or so, while advocacy groups said 1,500 to 2,000 people were involved — is likely to increase as others join the assemblage winding slowly along the roads.

President Donald Trump, who has assailed past caravans, calling them an “invasion” and a threat to U.S. security, cited the latest migrant thrust in a message Tuesday urging Democratic lawmakers to fund a border wall and end the current government shutdown arising from the wall dispute.

“A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border,” Trump wrote in a Twitter message. Addressing Democratic congressional leaders, he added: “Only a Wall, or Steel Barrier, will keep our Country safe! Stop playing political games and end the Shutdown!”

As with previous caravans, word had been circulating on social media and in news reports for weeks, drawing recruits. No single group appears to have organized the caravan or be formally in charge of the effort.

A minority of caravan travelers paid for bus tickets to the Guatemalan border, 160 miles away, and others caught rides from passing vehicles to the border. But many trudged along the roadsides, lugging small backpacks with meager belongings.

It was the beginning of a trip that, if successful, will probably last for weeks, passing through tropical forests, chilly highlands, towns and cities and expansive deserts, before arriving at the U.S. border — a distance of some 2,800 miles to Tijuana, across from California; or, in a shorter, alternative route, some 1,500 miles to the Mexican border city of Matamoros along the Rio Grande, next to Texas.

As the day wore on, groups within the caravan became increasingly dispersed across dozens of miles.

As in the past, participants — including many young men, but significant numbers of women and children — said they were fleeing a toxic combination of poverty and violence that has battered Honduras and the neighboring Central American nations of El Salvador and Guatemala.

In the bus station here, before the caravan set out, Nunez, a single mother of five, held on to her 3-year old daughter — the only one of her children whom she took along on the trip. She was traveling with her mother, Maria Romero, 48, and said she hardly earns enough to survive working as a field hand in orange groves and palm oil plantations. She said she hoped to find employment in the United States, a desire voiced by many.

But others, wary of the difficulties of crossing into the United States, said they would settle for temporary shelter in Mexico — where authorities have indicated they would provide work permits and humanitarian aid to caravan members.

“We are aiming to get to Mexico, to any state,” said Jeffrey Armindo, 17, from the Honduran city of La Ceiba, who was walking with a group of young men down a dusty stretch of highway.

Jeffrey was leery that crossing into the United States could lead to arrest and deportation back to Honduras.

The latest caravan poses a challenge for Mexican authorities and the country’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office Dec. 1, after the previous caravans had already entered Mexico.

Lopez Obrador has vowed to respect the “human rights” of U.S.-bound Central Americans traversing his country. However, Mexican authorities have said that the migrants will not be allowed to enter the country illegally — as many previous caravan participants did — but will have to register with Mexican immigration officials for humanitarian visas or other temporary residence documents at the Guatemala-Mexico border.

For many, the caravans represent a singular opportunity to improve their lives, even if their ultimate chances of entering the United States may be slim. Relatively few of the estimated 12,000 or so Central American migrants who traveled through Mexico or U.S.-bound caravans last year managed to enter the United States, migrant advocate groups say.

Katie Perez, 24, from the Honduran town of Quimistan, said she was hoping to join family members in the United States, a goal of many caravan members. She crammed into the back of a trailer Tuesday carrying her youngest child, a year and a half old, in her arms.

“We haven’t heard good things about the previous caravan,” she said, referring to the group that left here in October and eventually made it to Mexican border city of Tijuana, where thousands were stranded, unable to cross into the United States. “But we’re going to make our attempt. I hope that God helps us.”

Honduran authorities had sought to discourage people from traveling in the caravan, citing dangers along the road, including roadside traffic hazards and criminals who prey on migrants. But caravan participants generally say they feel safer traveling in large groups — and hope to avoid having to pay smugglers substantial fees usually involved if traveling alone or in smaller groups.

“We’d like to say to people, ‘Don’t go!’” said Sister Lidia Mara Silva de Souza, coordinator of a church-linked aid agency working with the migrants. “But then they’d turn to us and say, ‘Are you going to give me work? Are you going to give my kids an education?’”


© 2019 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.