Wednesday 13 November 2019

Migrant caravan pushes on

Trump threatens to cut aid if Honduran crowds reach US border

Desperate: Central American migrants on their way towards the US border, in Tapachula, Mexico. Photo: Reuters
Desperate: Central American migrants on their way towards the US border, in Tapachula, Mexico. Photo: Reuters

Delphine Schrank and Harriet Alexander Tapuchula

Donald Trump yesterday said he will "now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given" to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, after they failed to halt the progress of a migrant "caravan", heading towards the US border.

The group of Central American migrants was 200-strong when they left San Pedro Sula in Honduras a week ago, but by last night it had swelled to 7,000 people, the United Nations said.

The US president, whose approval rating appears to be rising due to his stance against the caravan, said the migrants presented "a national emergency". Mr Trump wrote on Twitter yesterday: "Sadly, it looks like Mexico's police and military are unable to stop the caravan heading to the southern border of the United States".

He added: "Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and military that this is a national emergency. Must change laws!"

Journalists with the caravan have not found anyone from the Middle East among the Central Americans.

Mr Trump, whose approval rating ahead of November midterm elections has jumped to 47pc - a higher level than Barack Obama's before the 2010 midterms according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll - has taken advantage of the caravan's progression to attack the Democrats.

He wrote on Twitter: "Every time you see a caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic immigration laws!

"Remember the midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally."

Members of the caravan, exhausted from the hours-long trek on foot from the Guatemalan border, mostly ignored police offers to board buses heading to a migrant shelter because of suspicions they might be deported instead.

The migrants have defied threats by Mr Trump that he will close the US-Mexico border if the caravan advances, as well as warnings from the Mexican government that they risk deportation if they cannot justify seeking asylum in Mexico.

In southern Mexico, police in riot gear shadowed the caravan's arrival along a southern highway, but did not impede their journey.

Among the throngs hiking into the centre of the city was Roger Pineda, a 16-year-old Honduran. "I just want to find some food and a place to sleep," he said, explaining he joined the caravan last week with five family members and a group of friends from the violent city of San Pedro Sula.

"I hope Trump allows us to make it to the other side," he said.

Many migrants said they were fleeing a toxic mix of violence, poverty and corruption in Central America.

Most said they felt safer advancing in a large group.

"We're going to make it, we're going to keep moving so long as they don't stop us," said Honduran Jaffe Borjas (17), marching alongside a childhood friend at the head of the column that stretched to the horizon.

Along the route north to Tapachula, about 40km northwest of the border, some broke into song. "If you send us back, we will return!" a large crowd shouted in unison.

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez supported the caravan and promised to provide people with work permits in a speech to supporters in Tuxtla-Gutierrez, about 290km north of Tapachula.

"I want to tell them they can count on us," said Mr Lopez Obrador, who will take office in December, to a smattering of applause. (© Daily Telegraph, London and agencies)

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