A new caravan of migrants headed for the United States has left San Pedro Sula, the same city in Honduras where a large caravan left in October and arrived at the United States’ southern border in November.
The earlier caravan ballooned to more than 5,000 people before traveling through Guatemala and Mexico and then reaching Tijuana, along the way prompting President Donald Trump to deploy thousands of military troops to the southern border.
The latest caravan is part of a growing wave of Central Americans, among them many families with children and children unaccompanied by parents, arriving at the southern border and requesting asylum, amid a government shutdown now in its fourth week over a dispute over border wall funding between Trump and congressional Democrats.
More: Central American migrants keep heading toward USA, even as Trump focuses on stopping caravans
Trump says additional border barriers are needed to stop the wave of migrants from Central America from coming, most of whom he claims do not qualify for asylum.
Democratic leaders contend Trump is capitalizing on the humanitarian crisis as a way to deliver on his campaign promise to build a border wall ahead of the 2020 election.
On Tuesday, Trump posted a tweet calling on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve funding for a border wall to end the shutdown.
More: Government shutdown: Coast Guard family starts GoFundMe to pay members
“A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border from Honduras. Tell Nancy and Chuck 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!” Trump tweeted.
Leaving San Pedro Sula
The newest caravan left San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, just as authorities prepared to close a shelter in Tijuana used to house several thousand migrants who arrived in last fall’s caravan.
Most of the migrants who arrived in Tijuana last fall have returned to their home countries, decided to remain in Mexico or crossed over into the United States, according to news reports.
Photos and videos posted on social media on Tuesday showed several hundred men, women and children leaving San Pedro Sula and walking in clusters in the rain.
The caravan swelled to more than 1,000 people by the time it reached the border of Guatemala on Wednesday. Migrants were met by about 150 Honduran police officers who a tried to block them from leaving Honduras and entering Guatemala, according Mexico’s Excelsior newspaper.
The police officers were quickly overwhelmed by the large number of migrants, some of whom yelled, “Fuera JOH,” a reference to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Many migrants blame the president for the conditions driving Hondurans to leave, including high rates of poverty, gang violence and homicides.
The migrants traveled through Honduras on foot, by bus, or by hitching rides on trucks and cars under the constant watch of police and soldiers, the newspaper said.
A video posted on Twitter by a Guatemalan journalist showed hundreds of migrants passing through the Agua Caliente border crossing on foot from Honduras into Guatemala.
From there, it is about 310 miles to reach the Guatemala-Mexico border, where in October thousands of migrants crossed a bridge over the Suchiate River and then crashed through a gate into Mexico, before continuing on toward the United States more than 1,000 miles farther north.
A promise of human rights protection
Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said his country would guarantee the protection of human rights for migrants who enter Mexico, while maintaining that the government’s priority is to work with Central American countries to find ways for migrants to remain in their countries of origin rather than leaving, according to Mexico’s Informador news outlet.
“If they enter our country, they must be guaranteed protection and human rights,” Lopez Obrador said, according to the news outlet.
The overall numbers of people trying to enter the United States illegally at the southern border remain at some of the lowest levels since the 1970s, based on Border Patrol apprehensions, which in fiscal 2018 numbered nearly 400,000.
But in fiscal 2018, the number of family units apprehended by the Border Patrol grew to 107,212, a 42 percent increase over the previous year, while the number of unaccompanied minors increased 21 percent to 50,036, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show.
The wave of Central Americans arriving at the border has overwhelmed the nation’s immigration system, forcing federal border and immigration enforcement authorities in recent months to quickly release thousands of families.
Federal authorities say the government lacks the capacity to hold the number of families arriving and also to avoid violating court orders that prevent the government from holding migrant families for more than 20 days.
In the Phoenix area alone, more than 12,000 family members, mostly from Guatemala, have been released since October at local churches, prompting protests.
Javier Arce of La Voz contributed reporting.