A group of migrants that once numbered as many as 5,000 split on Thursday over whether to continue marching through southern Mexico toward the U.S. border.
A group of around 2,000 migrants, mostly younger men, set out on foot from the southern town of Huixtla on Thursday.
But a host of families with children decided to wait in Huixtla to see if they could get some sort of temporary exit visa. The families were tired after traveling about 25 miles from the start in the town of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, on Monday.
The goal of almost all migrants is to reach the US border. But none of the migrant caravans crossing Mexico from 2018 have ever made it to the border, which is more than 1,000 miles to the north.
While some caravan participants have reached the border in the past, it was because of bus or car journeys – something the government is now trying to prevent.
Venezuelan migrant Junior Ramírez waited for papers with about 15 members of his extended family at a National Institute of Immigration post outside Huixtla, where migrants slept in the open on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“So far they haven’t told us if they’re going to give them to us,” Ramírez said. “Other migrants picked them up and left. All we want is to continue. »
Luis García Villagrán, an advocate for migrants traveling with the caravan, said Mexican authorities have issued the equivalent of exit visas, which give migrants between one and three months to leave the country.
Theoretically, a migrant with such papers will seek asylum or leave Mexico – presumably through the US border – and will not be sent back to their country of origin.
Josué Mendoza Rojas and Josmar de Nazaret Cárdenas, two other Venezuelan migrants, were in the same situation in Huixtla, trying to decide whether to continue walking.
“Everything is confused,” Mendoza Rojas said, referring to the fact that migrants had tried to make their own lists of people who could get papers. “There are about 40 lists, and some people left without papers.”
The couple left Venezuela two months ago with their one-year-old child and requested an asylum appointment in Tapachula. But they couldn’t get an appointment until August, and without enough money to wait until then, they decided to leave and start marching north.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do yet,” he said.
Venezuelans make up a large part of this caravan, the most important of the year, unlike the previous ones. One factor appears to be a policy change implemented by Mexico in January requiring Venezuelans to acquire visas to enter the country.
Prior to this change, Venezuelans had flown to Mexico City or Cancun as tourists and then comfortably headed for the border. Many crossed from their homes to the US border in as little as four days.
Encounters with Venezuelans on the southwest border rose from 22,779 in January to 3,073 in February, according to US Customs and Border Protection. In April, the most recent month available, there were 4,103 encounters.
But the flow of Venezuelan migrants continued. Since January, more than half of the 34,000 migrants who have crossed the treacherous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama have been Venezuelans, according to Panama’s National Migration Service.
The visa requirement drove the flow of Venezuelans into the shadows. Those who travel in the caravan are only the visible sign of those who travel through Mexico out of public view. Many other Venezuelans have likely turned to smugglers.
Recently, the Mexican government dissolved other caravans offering to move migrants to other cities where they could legalize their status more quickly. In some cases, the government has tried to tire out migrants by preventing passing trucks and buses from driving them.
Finding consensus on managing migratory flows in the region was a top priority for representatives meeting this week at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.