TAPAHULA, Mexico (AP) — An estimated 2,000 migrants left this southern Mexico town on Friday, saying they are not interested in visas and permits issued by the government in efforts to disband and instead summon other caravans to buses to the US border.
The latest group comes just two weeks after an even larger group left Tapachula, coinciding with a summit of hemispheric leaders organized by the United States. About 7,000 of those migrants were given temporary documents and transit visas that allowed them to board buses and travel north through Mexico.
The documents usually give migrants 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 October last year to periodically ease pressure from growing migrant numbers in the south. But instead of traveling to other states to normalize their status in areas less congested than Tapachula, migrants have used the documents to travel to the US border.
But migrants walking on Friday said authorities in other parts of Mexico have failed to respect those documents and many migrants have been sent back 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 group’s self-proclaimed leaders. “We want organizations and the government… to set up a humanitarian corridor.”
He said they want buses to take them to the US border. “The visa isn’t working,” he said. “With the visa they give us back, they tear it up.”
Authorities in some northern border states blocked many of the migrants who received documents this month after joining the larger caravan. Others traveling in smaller groups managed to cross the border into the US
Last week, Héctor Martínez Castuera, a senior official at Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said at a news conference in the border town of Piedras Negras that the intent of the temporary documents was for the migrants to legalize their status in Mexico — not travel to the U.S. He said that the migrants had been told the same, but many decided to go to the US anyway.
At a first checkpoint on the highway on the outskirts of Tapachula, authorities on Friday watched the migrants pass without intervening.
Frustrated migrants have long complained about Mexico’s strategy of enclosing them in southern Mexico, where there are fewer jobs. The Mexican government has essentially gone down the path of seeking asylum for the migrants, many of whom are ineligible, and has overwhelmed the capacity of the system, causing delays.
“(The wait) is too much of an expense,” said Colombian Janet Rodas, who is traveling with her Venezuelan partner and a baby. She said migrants spend days roaming in Tapachula between the detention center, the asylum service and other offices. The runaround makes it difficult to work or get meals for those staying in shelters.
Many migrants carry debt for their trip and feel pressured to move to the United States, where they can find work and start paying off.
Carlos Guzmán from Honduras joined the caravan with his wife and five children. They had been given a first appointment with the asylum office for September.
“It’s too much time they’ve given us for the appointment,” he said. “That’s why we decided to walk.”
This week, non-governmental organizations visiting Mexico’s border with Guatemala said they had noticed abuses by authorities.
Melissa Vertiz of the Immigration Policy Working Group said the Mexican National Guard should stop working as immigration authorities and that migrants should be able to normalize their status in other parts of Mexico, not be limited to the south.
Mexican Senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza, who accompanied the organizations, warned that the situation in the south was a time bomb that could spark violence.
“There is no awareness of the humanitarian crisis that the southern border is experiencing. There is no idea of the magnitude of what is happening here,” he said.
The caravans have formed in recent years as migrants who sought refuge en masse or who smugglers could not afford. But they represent a fraction of the usual migratory flow through Mexico that takes place largely out of sight.
The days of hiking in tropical heat and rain quickly take their toll on participants in the caravans. Sometimes the authorities intervene to detain exhausted participants, but more recently the government has tried to avoid possible conflicts and instead issue temporary documents to disband the caravans.