TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (AP) — Many Central Americans in a mass caravan at the Mexican border with Guatemala appear inclined to apply for any kind of refugee status in Mexico, even though most initially intended to make it to the United States.
Twenty-year-old Scarleth Cruz says she is going to apply for political asylum in Mexico because of threats and repression she faced back home in Honduras from the governing party of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
She said: "Why would I want to go to the United States if I'm going to be persecuted" there as well.
Hondurans have also cited poverty and gang threats as their reasons for joining the mass caravan.
Hector Aguilar is a 49-year-old sales manager who worked as a taxi driver in Yoro province to feed his four children. Aguilar says he had to pay the two main gangs there protection money in order to work. On Thursdays he gave the 18th Street gang the equivalent of $12.50, and on Saturdays he gave the same amount to MS-13. That's a significant amount in low-wage Honduras.
On Saturday, Mexican agents unlocked a small side gate and allowed a group of about 40 migrants through for processing.
In the heat and crush of bodies, one woman fainted and was carried to the Mexican side in the arms of rescuers.
Mexican officials are refusing to yield to demands from a caravan of Central American migrants that they be allowed to enter the country en masse from a border bridge with Guatemala where they camped out overnight.
Officials announced they would hand out numbers to those waiting to cross and allow them to enter in small groups.
It's a strategy similar to what's been seen in U.S. border cities when they became overwhelmed by large numbers of migrants.
Those on the bridge watched with desperation Saturday as workers began erecting tall steel riot barriers.
Twenty-year-old Scarleth Cruz hoisted a crying, sweat-soaked baby girl above the crowd. She cried out: "This girl is suffocating."
Some tore open a fence on the Guatemala side of the bridge and threw two young children, perhaps age 6 or 7, and their mother into the Suchiate River about 40 feet below. They were taken safely on a raft to Mexican territory.
Organizers of a caravan of migrants trying to cross into Mexico and ultimately the U.S. appear intent on avoiding a repeat of a rush on the border with Guatemala that ended when Mexican security forces with riot shields and pepper spray drove them back.
Some women and children made their way toward the front of the caravan Saturday, while men were at the back.
They have also moved about 30 feet (9 meters) back from the gate that separates them from Mexican police to establish a buffer zone. They had broken through the gate Friday but police drove nearly all of them back.
About 1,000 migrants now remain on the bridge between Guatemala and Mexico.
Selvin Flores, a 35-year-old shopkeeper from the Honduran city of Nacaome, says people who "were causing disorder" have been expelled from the group and handed over to Guatemalan police. He says the remaining migrants "do not want misunderstandings."
Flores has three children and says that he sometimes skips meals to ensure that they eat.
He said he wants to reach the U.S. to work and save money before returning to Honduras. He says it's painful for him to leave his country but he did it "out of necessity."
Thousands of Central American migrants participating in a caravan heading toward the United States woke up on a bridge that divides the borders of Guatemala and Mexico.
The migrants have no fresh supplies of water or food and slept amid garbage that has piled up at the crossing. Without bathrooms, a foul odor wafted through the air.
Jose Yanez woke up at 5 a.m. and said that his back hurt.
The 25-year-old farmer had no blanket to fend off the chill, but vowed to continue on.
"From here, we're going on. From here, there's no turning back," he said.
He said that he makes 150 lempiras a day, or about $6, and has no work benefits.
On the Mexican side of the border, a group of about 30 migrants sang the national anthem of Honduras.