MEXICO CITY — President Donald Trump is warning about "caravans" of migrants heading to the U.S., though the caravan of Central American migrants supposedly moving across Mexico toward the border was strikingly immobile Monday.
The group of about 1,100 people, most of them Hondurans, had been walking along roadsides and train tracks, but they have stopped to camp out at a sports field in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca. They are waiting and getting advice on filing for transit or humanitarian visas in Mexico.
Many headed to the field's stands to shelter under the awning from the hot afternoon sun. As night fell, the migrants, many with children, lit fires to cook their meager rations.
While a group of about a couple of hundred men in the march broke off and hopped a freight train north on Sunday — probably to try to enter the United States — the rest seem unlikely to move until Wednesday or Thursday. Those are probably going to take buses to the last scheduled stop for the caravan, a migrant rights symposium in central Puebla state.
Irineo Mujica, director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the activist group behind the annual symbolic event, said the caravan would continue only to the city of Puebla southeast of Mexico City, "but not in a massive way." After the symposium, some migrants may continue to Mexico's capital, where it is easier to make an asylum claim. Mujica said about 300 to 400 of the migrants say they have relatives living in Mexico and so may consider staying here at least temporarily.
While there were reports Mexico was seeking to end the caravan, it was for all intents and purposes over. The participants were never equipped to march en masse to the U.S. border or anywhere near it. No one was walking late Monday, and Mexican immigration agents showed up offering people help in signing up for various kinds of transit and humanitarian visas. The large number of children present made any move against the camp unlikely.
It was all pretty undramatic — especially compared to 2013 and 2014, when migrants jammed Mexican trains heading north — but Trump's angry tweets raised hackles in Mexico.
"Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!" Trump wrote in one. "With all of the money they make from the U.S., hopefully they will stop people from coming through their country and into ours."
Mexico's interior secretary, Alfonso Navarrete Prida, rejected such pressure.
"We will act with complete sovereignty in enforcing our laws," Navarrete Prida said Monday. "Of course we will act ... to enforce our immigration laws, with no pressure whatsoever from any country whatsoever."
In a statement issued late Monday, Mexico's government said about 400 participants in the caravan had already been sent back to their home countries. "Under no circumstances does the Mexican government promote irregular migration," the Interior Ministry statement said.
It noted that Mexico considers the annual caravans to be "a public demonstration that seeks to call attention to the migration phenomenon and the importance of respecting the rights of Central Americans." The U.S. government has been kept fully informed of the situation, it said.
The department also said that unlike in previous years of the caravan, "this time Mexican immigration authorities have offered refugee status" to participants who qualify. But it suggested it is not up to Mexico to keep people from going to the U.S. to apply for asylum.
"It is not this government's responsibility to make immigration decisions for the United States or any other country, so it will be up to the appropriate authorities of the United States to decide whether to authorize the entry of the caravan participants to U.S. territory," it said.
Navarette Prida had said earlier that he talked with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday. "We agreed to analyze the best means to handle flows of migration, in accordance with each country's laws," Navarrete Prida wrote in his Twitter account.
Nielsen later tweeted that their talk was focused specifically on the annual migrant caravan. "Working with Mexican officials to address the yearly illegal alien caravan. Exploring all options," she wrote.
The "Stations of the Cross" migrant caravans have been held in southern Mexico for about 10 years. They began as short processions of migrants, some dressed in biblical garb and carrying crosses, as an Easter-season protest against the kidnappings, extortion, beatings and killings suffered by many Central American migrants as they cross Mexico.
The organized portions of the caravans usually don't proceed much farther north than the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. Some migrants, moving as individuals or in smaller groups, often take buses or trucks from there to the U.S. border.
Mexico routinely stops and deports Central Americans, sometimes in numbers that rival those of the United States. Deportations of foreigners dropped from 176,726 in 2015 to 76,433 in 2017, in part because fewer were believed to have come to Mexico, and more were requesting asylum in Mexico.
Mexico granted 3,223 asylum requests made in 2016, and 9,626 requests filed last year are either under review or have been accepted.