Roughly 6,500 migrants are heading north to the United States, and some have already clashed with Guatemalan military and law enforcement who attempted to stop them on Friday.
Reuters reported that the Guatemalan military arrested hundreds of migrants, including a number of families traveling with young children.
Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s immigration authority, said there was likely 6,500 Hondurans attempting the dangerous journey north, with nearly half already within Guatemala’s borders.
Guatemalan law enforcement and troops used tear gas, in addition to batons and shields, to prevent the Honduran migrants from pushing through a roadblock on Sunday, after roughly 2,000 migrants had stopped just before the barricade for the night Saturday, according to The Associated Press.
Around 100 migrants attempted to force their way through security Sunday morning, but Guatemalan forces prevented them from getting through. Multiple migrants were physically injured with baton strikes, including one man who suffered a head wound.
“They hit me in the head,” the man told AP. “I didn’t come with the intention of looking for problems with anybody. We’re brothers, Central Americans. We’re not looking for trouble. We just want to pass.”
When attempting to get through by force didn’t work, hundreds of migrants sat in the road and refused to leave.
Leila Rodriguez, from the country’s human rights office, empathized with the migrants, telling AP, “this is a distressing moment we’re experiencing.”
“We want to start a dialogue with you, to ask you to accept some of the needs of the Guatemalan people right now,” Rodriguez said, referencing fears that the caravan could spread COVID-19.
The Associated Press reported that Guatemala’s Health Ministry said 21 migrants who sought medical attention tested positive for COVID-19. The 12 men and nine women who tested positive were immediately quarantined.
“The government of Guatemala regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on the governments of Central America to take measures to avoid putting their inhabitants at risk amid the health emergency due to the pandemic,” President Alejandro Giammattei said in a statement.
The massive caravan comes days ahead of Inauguration Day when President-elect Joe Biden will take office.
Over the weekend, Biden said his first day in office would include a request to Congress to grant 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States citizenship, standing in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s approach to unlawful immigration, The Associated Press reported.
While it is impossible to know exactly how many illegal immigrants are in the United States, the Pew Research Center estimated that the number was around 10.5 million people.
Also on Sunday, a Biden transition official said the migrants seeking asylum “need to understand they’re not going to be able to come into the United States immediately,” NBC News reported.