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Thousands of Central American undocumented migrants are heading toward the United States as they flee rampant violence and economic deprivation.  The caravan of about 4,000 Honduran migrants has reportedly grown to around 7,000 as their journey continues toward the U.S. border.  The US President has threatened to cut foreign aid to Central American countries, nullify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal if Mexico doesn’t stop the migrants, and even deploy troops to “close” the border.

The Mexican government had ordered the migrants to submit to processing by the immigration authorities at a legal border crossing but many said they feared being deported and the group kept moving north.  The Mexican authorities warned as the migrants approached that only travelers with valid documents and visas, or with claims for asylum or other forms of protection, would be allowed into Mexico. They threatened deportation for those who tried to enter illegally and said they would process the migrants one by one.

Mexican officials said they received more than 1,000 asylum requests from caravan members at the border. Some migrants were taken to a local fairground that had been converted into a temporary government shelter. Many others remained on a bridge spanning the Suchiate River, waiting to be processed by Mexican officials.  The vast majority of the caravan’s members have refused to apply for refuge in Mexico, worried that the process could lead to their detention or deportation.

Mexican officials have said migrants seeking asylum are under no legal obligation to apply in Mexico.  Under a proposed bilateral agreement, United States border officials would be able to legally turn back asylum seekers who first pass through Mexico, forcing them to seek protection south of the border.  Mexican officials encouraged the migrants to apply for asylum but made little effort to halt the massive group that stretched along this city’s main highway for more than a half-mile.  Federal police officers were present on the road, monitoring the procession, and a police helicopter circled overhead, but the authorities allowed the procession to carry on unimpeded.

The caravan is part of a tradition of mass migrations, often organized by advocacy groups, meant to provide safety in numbers to migrants, who face many threats to their safety along the perilous migrant trail.  These caravans usually number in the hundreds, passing through unnoticed, but the current caravan, which continues to grow, is by far the largest on record.

Many of the migrants have previously lived in the United States, for years or even decades, before being deported.  Many say they joined the caravan to reunite with their children, or to resume old jobs and seem undeterred by the American authorities who had apprehended them and promised to keep them out.  Some say they returned to their home countries voluntarily when their visas expired but have longed for a better life.  Some members of the caravan plan to apply for political asylum, citing the threats they’ve received from gangs in Honduras or, in Nicaragua, the government’s assaults on the political opposition.

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