Mexico halts Honduran migrant caravan at Guatemala entry point

A new caravan formed in Honduras with about 2,500 migrants traveling toward the U.S.- Mexico border. Saturday the Mexican National Guard stepped up and honored the “safe third country” agreement. The migrants were denied entry into Mexico at the Guatemala-Mexico border.

Last November the Trump administration entered into a series of regional agreements with countries including Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The goal is to reduce the burden of Central American migrant caravans arriving at the U.S. border. Migrants are being returned to Guatemala, sent back to their home country, or allowed to enter the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and wait in Mexico. In this case, Mexico stopped the caravan at a point of entry as they crossed a bridge over the Suchiate River between Mexico and Guatemala.

The scene was tense but Mexican National Guardsmen kept the migrant caravan back. There was some orderly entry allowed in small groups.

Honduran migrants waved their country’s flag and sang the national anthem as they approached the bridge. At the height of the confrontation, Guatemalan authorities estimated 2,500 migrants were on the bridge, or attempting to get on it.

Mexican National Guardsmen slammed down a metal fence that reads “Welcome to Mexico” to block the path of the migrants.

Babies cried and tempers flared as the crowd swelled. Amid shoves, Mexican officials did allow a few migrants to enter the country in groups of 20, while a voice over a loudspeaker warned migrants against trying to slip into Mexico without passing through immigration filters.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute tweeted that Mexico has shored up points along the southern border to assure “safe, orderly and regular immigration.”

A caravan of hundreds of Honduran migrants began making their way north on Wednesday, with the goal of reaching the U.S. southern border. This is a perfect example of why the Trump administration made the safe third country agreement with Central American countries. The caravan should have been stopped by officials in Guatemala but since it wasn’t, Mexico took control and halted it.

Human rights activists object to safe third country agreements.

“The truth is, it is going to be impossible for them to reach the United States,” human rights activist Itsmania Platero said. “The Mexican police have a large contingent and they are going to catch all the migrants without documents, and they will be detained and returned to their home countries.”

That’s the point, though. Migrants without documents have to be processed in an orderly way. Allowing caravans to travel through several countries on the way to the U.S. border without following immigration laws leads to chaos. Migrants are taken advantage of by human traffickers and drug cartels. That is what human rights activists should be concerned about, not Mexican authorities protecting their own borders.

By the end of Saturday, more than 150 migrants entered to apply for asylum or some other variation of permission to stay in Mexico. All of the migrants remaining on the bridge to cross into Mexico were warned that being allowed in would not necessarily allow them passage to the U.S. border.

Hundreds of guardsmen lined the river to prevent migrants from crossing into Mexico clandestinely. The voice on the loudspeaker warned, over and over, that those aiming to transit through Mexico may not be granted asylum in the U.S., even if they make it there.

As temperatures rose Saturday, migrants trickled back across the bridge to Guatemala. By late afternoon, fewer than a hundred remained on the bridge.

Mexico’s government has said migrants entering the country without registering will not be allowed to pass from its southern border area. But those seeking asylum or other protections will be allowed to apply and legalize their status in Mexico.

Guatemalan officials have counted about 3,000 migrants who have registered at border crossings to enter the country. About 1,300 others did not register. Guatemala offers bus rides back to their countries of origin. There are more than 1,000 migrants gathered at another point on the Mexican border. In the Peten region, there were reports that Mexican forces are on the other side of the border there, too.

Migrants are advised that there are opportunities for them in Mexico. They are offered legal status and employment if they agree to remain in southern Mexico.

Mexico’s offer of legal status and potential employment for migrants carries a stipulation that would confine migrants to southern Mexico, where wages are lower and there are fewer jobs than elsewhere in the country.

El Salvador’s consul general in Mexico, Antonio Azúcar, told The Associated Press that Mexican authorities had reported that the migrants crossing into Mexican territory would be housed in Ciudad Hidalgo, the city on the banks of the Suchiate where the bridge standoff happened.

But a Mexican official, who refused to be quoted by name, said those who request asylum in Mexico would be taken to one of two migratory stations in the state of Chiapas — one in Tapachula and the other in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

Once in custody, in theory, migrants may request temporary work permits to remain in Mexico. For months, however, non-profit groups have complained that the migrants are instead often returned to their countries of origin.

An offer to settle in Mexico may not be the ultimate goal desired for the migrants but it is a decent offer if they simply want to flee dangerous circumstances. In the meantime, it’s good to know that Mexico is upholding its part of the agreement with the U.S. Let’s hope that continues.