First asylum seekers returned from Mexico for U.S. court hearings

Honduran migrant Ariel, 19, who is waiting for his court hearing for asylum seekers returned to Mexico to wait out their legal proceedings under a new policy change by the U.S. government, is pictured after an interview with Reuters in Tijuana, Mexico March 18, 2019. Picture taken March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Lizbeth Diaz and Mica Rosenberg

TIJUANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of asylum seekers sent back to Mexico was set to cross the border on Tuesday for their first hearings in U.S. immigration court in an early test of a controversial new policy from the Trump administration.

The U.S. program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), turns people seeking protection in the United States around to wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexican border towns. Some 240 people – including families – have been returned since late January, according to U.S. officials.

Court officials in San Diego referred questions about the number of hearings being held on Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a request for comment. But attorneys representing a handful of clients were preparing to appear in court.

Migrants like 19-year-old Ariel, who said he left Honduras because of gang death threats against himself and his family, were preparing to line up at the San Ysidro port of entry first thing Tuesday morning.

Ariel, who asked to use only his middle name because of fears of reprisals in his home country, was among the first group of asylum-seeking migrants sent back to Mexico on Jan. 30 and given a notice to appear in U.S. court in San Diego.

“God willing everything will move ahead and I will be able to prove that if I am sent back to Honduras, I’ll be killed,” Ariel said.

While awaiting his U.S. hearing, Ariel said he was unable to get a legal work permit in Mexico but found a job as a restaurant busboy in Tijuana, which does not pay him enough to move out of a shelter.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other advocacy groups are suing in federal court to halt the MPP program, which is part of a series of measures the administration of President Donald Trump has taken to try to curb the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.

The Trump administration says most asylum claims, especially for Central Americans, are ultimately rejected, but because of crushing immigration court backlogs people are often released pending resolution of their cases and live in the United States for years. The government has said the new program is aimed at ending “the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”

Critics of the program say it violates U.S. law and international norms since migrants are sent back to often dangerous towns in Mexico in precarious living situations where it is difficult to get notice about changes to U.S. court dates and to find legal help.

Immigration advocates are closely watching how the proceedings will be carried out this week, especially after scheduling glitches created confusion around three hearings last week, according to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which runs U.S. immigration courts under the Department of Justice, said only that it uses its regular court scheduling system for the MPP hearings and did not respond to a question about the reported scheduling problems.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there are real concerns about the difficulties of carrying out this major shift in U.S. immigration policy.

“The government did not have its shoes tied when they introduced this program,” he said.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

Mexico prepares for arrival of next Central American migrant caravan

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, leave a temporary shelter voluntarily, which is to be closed by Mexican authorities for sanitary reasons, in Tijuana Mexico January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican authorities will meet with Central American officials to prepare for the arrival of a planned new caravan of migrants headed to the United States next week.

The head of Mexico’s immigration office, Tonatiuh Guillen, left on Wednesday on a trip to El Salvador and Honduras to meet with his counterparts and other authorities, said Interior Ministry spokesman Hector Gandini.

Mexico hopes to discourage a mass exodus from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and wants Central Americans who decide to migrate north to do so in an orderly way and through legal ports of entry.

“The doors to Mexico are open to anyone who wants to enter in an orderly fashion,” Gandini told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But whoever wants to come in illegally will be deported.”

Previous Central American caravans became a flashpoint in the debate over U.S. immigration policy.

That was intensified by the recent deaths of two migrant children in American custody and a partial U.S. government shutdown over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

There are 12 legal ports of entry for Central Americans on Mexico’s southern border, but Mexican authorities have identified an additional 370 illegal points of entry on that frontier, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said this week.

Mexico borders in the south with Guatemala and Belize.

The illegal entry points will be “monitored and controlled to avoid undocumented access of people to our territory,” Sanchez said.

Guatemala’s deputy foreign minister, Pablo Cesar Garcia, met with Mexican authorities on Tuesday to discuss the caravan and to “provide all the necessary support to the migrants,” said Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra.

“In Honduras, they kill us,” read an appeal circulating on social media for people to assemble in the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula next Tuesday to start the long trek north to the United States.

While other social media posts invite people to leave from nearby Santa Barbara on Jan. 20, U.S. authorities hoped to dissuade Central Americans from making the journey.

“The risks of illegal immigration are serious. Don’t waste your time and money on a trip destined to fail. The road is long and very dangerous. Thousands of Hondurans who participated in the caravan came back sorry,” Heide Fulton, the U.S chargé d’affaires to Honduras, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana, Mexico; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Tired of waiting for asylum, migrants from caravan breach U.S. border

Migrants from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, put their hands in the air as they surrender to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official in San Diego County, U.S., after crossing illegally from Mexico to the U.S by jumping a border fence, photographed from Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Christine Murray

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Central American migrants stuck on the threshold of the United States in Mexico breached the border fence on Monday, risking almost certain detention by U.S. authorities but hoping the illegal entry will allow them to apply for asylum.

Since mid-October, thousands of Central Americans, mostly from Honduras, have traveled north through Mexico toward the United States in a caravan, some walking much of the long trek.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, climb a border fence to cross illegally from Mexico to the U.S, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, climb a border fence to cross illegally from Mexico to the U.S, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to stop the migrants entering, sending troops to reinforce the border and attempting a procedural change, so far denied by the courts, to require asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are heard.

Frustrated and exhausted after weeks of uncertainty, many of the migrants have become desperate since getting stuck in squalid camps in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

So a number opted to eschew legal procedures and attempt an illegal entry from Tijuana as dusk fell on Monday at a spot about 1,500 feet (450 meters) away from the Pacific Ocean.

In less than an hour, Reuters reporters observed roughly two dozen people climb the approximately 10-foot (3-meter) fence made of thick sheets and pillars of metal. They chose a place in a large overgrown ditch where the fence is slightly lower.

Just before dusk, three thin people squeezed through the fence on the beach and were quickly picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol, witnesses said.

But along the border inland as darkness descended, more and more migrants followed, many bringing children.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials walk on the beach in San Diego County, U.S., as photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018 REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials walk on the beach in San Diego County, U.S., as photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, December 3, 2018, REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Some used a blanket as a rope to help loved ones get over.

A mother and her children made it over the first fence and disappeared into the night.

The sight of them climbing the fence encouraged others, even as a helicopter patrolled overhead on the U.S. side.

Earlier, Karen Mayeni, a 29-year-old Honduran, sized up the fence while clinging to her three children, aged six, 11 and 12.

“We’re just observing, waiting to see what happens,” Mayeni said. “We’ll figure out what to do in a couple of days.”

Ninety minutes later, she and her family were over the fence.

A number of the migrants ran to try to escape capture, but most of them walked slowly to where U.S. Border Patrol officials were waiting under floodlights to hand themselves in.

‘STAND ON MY HEAD’

Some of the migrants are likely to be economic refugees without a strong asylum claim, but others tell stories of receiving politically motivated death threats in a region troubled by decades of instability and violence.

Applying for asylum at a U.S. land border can take months, so if migrants enter illegally and present themselves to authorities, their cases could be heard quicker.

U.S. officials have restricted applications through the Chaparral gate in Tijuana to between 40 and 100 per day.

Some may hope to defeat the odds and penetrate one of the most fortified sections of the southern U.S. border.

Those that made it across the fence in Tijuana still had to scramble up a hill and contend with a more forbidding wall to reach California, and U.S. Border Patrol agents had the territory between the two barriers heavily covered.

“Climb up. You can do it! Stand on my head!” one migrant said, egging his companion on.

One child and his mother got over the fence and ran up the hill behind. They turned around and waved to those still on the Mexican side.

(Reporting by Christine Murray; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Mexico calls for ‘full investigation’ of U.S. tear gas at border

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, run from tear gas released by U.S border patrol, near the border fence between Mexico and the United States in Tijuana, Mexico, November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Susan Heavey and Lizbeth Diaz

WASHINGTON/TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico’s foreign ministry presented a diplomatic note to the U.S. government on Monday calling for “a full investigation” into what it described as non-lethal weapons directed toward Mexican territory on Sunday, a statement from the ministry said.

The formal request came a day after U.S. authorities fired tear gas canisters toward migrants in Mexico – near the border crossing separating Tijuana from San Diego, California – when some rushed through border fencing into the United States.

More than 40 were arrested on the U.S. side, U.S. border authorities said, adding that none were believed to have successfully crossed further into Californian territory.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at an event in Mississippi that he would close the border if migrants “charge” the barrier. During the melee on Sunday, U.S. authorities shut San Ysidro, the country’s busiest border crossing, for several hours.

“We would close it and we’ll keep it closed if we’re going to have a problem. We’ll keep it closed for a long period of time,” Trump said.

Sunday’s incident was the latest chapter in a saga that has pitted Trump’s hardline immigration policies against thousands of migrants who have made their way north through Mexico from violent and impoverished Central American countries.

Tensions had been growing in Tijuana, and Trump said on Saturday the migrants would have to wait in Mexico until their individual asylum claims were resolved in the United States. That would be a significant shift in asylum policy that could keep Central Americans in Mexico for more than a year.

Trump went further on Monday, saying Mexico should send the Central Americans, mostly Hondurans, back home.

“Mexico should move the flag-waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it any way you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!” Trump tweeted.

Mexico has been in negotiations with the United States over a possible scheme to keep migrants in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed.

The team of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Saturday, has said no deal has been agreed on the migrants. But officials have hinted they could remain.

“We should be objective, whatever happens, they will stay in Mexico,” said Alejandro Encinas, an incoming deputy interior minister. “Migrants have rights and we will respect them.”

CRITICISM

U.S. government agencies defended the response to Sunday’s incident at the San Ysidro crossing south of San Diego, California. News pictures showing children fleeing tear gas prompted sharp criticism from some lawmakers and charities.

British aid group Oxfam said the use of tear gas was shameful.

“Images of barefoot children choking on tear gas thrown by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol should shock us to our core,” Vicki Gass, Oxfam America Senior Policy Advisor for Central America, said in a statement.

Democrats and other critics called the use of tear gas an overreaction and questioned the idea of keeping the migrants in Mexico to make asylum claims there.

Some rights advocates and legal experts were concerned that the Trump administration was seeking to exploit the clashes.

Geoffrey Hoffman, a professor and director of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, which represents migrants applying for asylum, said the government would use it to push the argument that the migrants should remain in Mexico.

Still, Rodney Scott, chief U.S. Border Patrol agent in San Diego, told CNN the vast majority of those assembled at the border were economic migrants who would not qualify for asylum and said there were few women and children.

“What I saw on the border yesterday was not people walking up to Border Patrol agents and asking to claim asylum,” he said.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that the agency has “confirmed that there are over 600 convicted criminals traveling with the caravan.”

She also said the women and children in the caravan were being used as “human shields” by organizers when they confront law enforcement.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a statement four agents were hit with rocks on Sunday, but they did not suffer serious injuries.

WAITING GAME

Tijuana police chief Mario Martinez told a news conference on Monday that 194 Central Americans had been arrested in the 15 days the caravan has been in the area.

The migrants have traveled through Mexico in large groups, or caravans. There are more than 7,000 at the U.S. border in Tijuana and the city of Mexicali, with more than 800 others still moving toward the border.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum, who has said his city is facing a humanitarian crisis, told a local radio station the United States would take up to three months to start processing asylum requests.

Many of those in Tijuana have said they will wait there until they can seek asylum. If they enter the United States, legally or illegally, they have a right to seek asylum.

Melkin Gonzalez, a 26-year-old Honduran man, recounting Sunday’s tear gas firing, said: “I fell in dirty water when I was running (away) and I still don’t have any clothes to change into. Even so, I’m not going back to Honduras, I want to go to the United States.”

The U.S. military said it had shifted about 300 service members from Texas and Arizona to California in recent days. In total, about 5,600 active-duty troops are on the border with Mexico.

U.S. military officials have said they expected troops to be repositioned as the situation developed and changed.

Nielsen said her agency was prepared to address any future violence by deploying more U.S. military forces.

U.S. lawmakers face a deadline to approve funding for the federal government by Dec. 7. Trump has threatened to shut down the government unless Congress pays for his planned border wall.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Idrees Ali in Washington, Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Steve Holland in Gulfport, Mississippi; Writing by Susan Heavey and Frances Kerry; Editing by Alistair Bell, James Dalgleish and Rosalba O’Brien)

Central American migrants resume their march toward U.S. border

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, make their way to Queretaro from Mexico City, Mexico, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Hannah McKay

QUERETARO, Mexico (Reuters) – Hundreds of Central American migrants resumed their march north through Mexico on Saturday, en route to the U.S. border where President Donald Trump has effectively suspended the granting of asylum to migrants who cross illegally.

Trump’s Friday order, which went into effect on Saturday, means that migrants will have to present themselves at U.S. ports of entry to qualify for asylum and follow other rules unveiled on Thursday that seek to limit asylum claims.

“It doesn’t matter what rules (Trump’s) government imposes we cannot go back to our countries. I have a bullet in my arm and another in my shoulder. If I go back home, it’d be better for me to go with a casket,” said 30-year-old Julio Caesar from Honduras, who declined to give his last name.

The caravan, made up mostly of Hondurans, started north again on Saturday morning following a rest of four days in Mexico City.

They carried backpacks, blankets, food, many with children in tow, and took the metro and then walked to the town of Tepotzotlan. There they were helped onto buses and trucks by authorities, who stopped traffic to ask motorists if they would take the migrants to the city of Queretaro, where a shelter was set up at a stadium.

Some of the migrants are set to arrive at the border city of Tijuana on Monday, while others later in the week to Reynosa and other border towns, according to migrant shelters.

“These (U.S.) policies leave migrants even more vulnerable because they will be stranded in northern Mexico, with human traffickers lurking because the Mexican government does not have the capacity to help them,” said Oscar Misael Hernandez, researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

Trump made his hard-line policies toward immigration a key issue ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections. He has vowed to deploy troops at the border to stop a caravan of migrants, who say they want to seek asylum in the United States, citing violence in their own countries.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

First wave of Central American migrants arrives in Mexico City

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, queue to receive food as they stay in a sport center used as shelter in Arriaga, Mexico November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The first Central American migrants from a caravan traveling through Mexico toward the United States in hopes of seeking asylum arrived in Mexico City on Sunday, taking up temporary shelter at a sports stadium.

More than 1,000 Central Americans, many fleeing gang violence and financial hardship in their home countries, bedded down at the stadium where the city government set up medical aid and food kitchens.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections this Tuesday, President Donald Trump has warned repeatedly about the advance of the caravan and ordered thousands of troops to the Mexican border, where units strung up razor wire this weekend.

The migrants arrived in the capital, nearly 500 miles (805 kilometers) from the closest border crossings in Texas, four weeks after setting out from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

“Our heads are set at getting to the United States, to fulfill the American dream,” said Mauricio Mancilla, who traveled with his six-year old son from San Pedro Sula. “We have faith in God that we will do this, whatever the circumstances.”

Thousands more Central Americans were moving in groups in the Gulf state of Veracruz, the central state of Puebla and in the southern state of Chiapas, local media reported.

“This is an exodus,” Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and migrant rights activist, told reporters. “It’s without precedent.”

The U.S. government has pressured Mexico to halt the advance of the migrants and President Enrique Pena Nieto has offered temporary identification papers and jobs if they register for asylum in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s government said on Saturday it was processing nearly 2,800 asylum requests and that around 1,100 Central Americans had been deported.

At the capital’s famed shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a group of Mexican volunteers called out on bullhorns, offering bus rides to migrants to the stadium.

Cesar Gomez, a 20-year old Guatemalan, said he jumped at joining the caravan to avoid the dangers of traveling alone and paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers.

“This was a good opportunity,” he said as he waited for a ride. “The first thing is to try for the United States. If not, maybe I will stay here.”

(Reporting by Josue Gonzalez, Stefanie Eschenbacher and Alberto Fajardo; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Mexico offers plan to keep U.S.-bound migrants in Mexico

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, hitchhike on a truck along the highway to Arriaga from Pijijiapan, Mexico, October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Delphine Schrank

PIJIJIAPAN, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico on Friday offered temporary identification papers and jobs to migrants who register for asylum in the country, stepping up efforts to halt the advance of a U.S.-bound Central American caravan that has angered Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Central America to try to stop the caravan of several thousand people. U.S. officials have said that up to 1,000 troops may be sent to the U.S. southern border to prevent the migrants from crossing.

Making reference to the caravan, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said that migrants wishing to obtain temporary identification documents, jobs or education for their children could do so by registering for asylum in southern Mexico.

“This plan is only for those who comply with Mexican laws, and it’s a first step towards a permanent solution for those who are granted refugee status in Mexico,” Pena Nieto said in a pre-recorded address broadcast on Friday afternoon.

To qualify for the scheme he called “Estas en Tu Casa” (‘Make Yourself at Home’) migrants had to be in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, Pena Nieto said.

Temporary work in the states would be extended so as also to benefit Mexicans, said Pena Nieto, who leaves office on Nov. 30.

The caravan, which is moving through Chiapas on the border of Guatemala, has enabled Trump to campaign hard on illegal immigration ahead of midterm congressional elections on Nov. 6, in which Republicans are battling to keep control of Congress.

Mexican officials have said those migrants who do not qualify for refugee status are liable to be deported.

Mexico’s government has said that more than 1,700 people in the convoy have registered for asylum, while others have returned home. Estimates on the size of the group vary.

Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador to Mexico, told Mexican radio on Friday that the caravan could reach Mexico City by next Friday. He put an “official” headcount at 3,500, estimating that at least two-thirds of them were Hondurans.

The caravan set off in Honduras nearly two weeks ago and has picked up other Central Americans en route.

Alexander Fernandez, a Honduran traveling in the caravan, said people began leaving the town of Pijijiapan at about 3 a.m. to head for Arriaga, a town in the west of Chiapas.

A banner hanging over a bridge on the migrants’ path read: “Your hearts are brave, don’t give up.”

Tens of thousands of Central Americans set off for the United States every year, looking to escape violence and poverty. Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans make up the bulk of illegal immigrants apprehended at the U.S. border.

On Thursday night, thousands of people took refuge under small tents or teepees made from garbage bags in Pijijiapan’s town square. Many people rushed to a nearby river in the afternoon to wash off the sweat of travel and extreme heat.

A White House official said on Thursday that “a wide range of administrative, legal and legislative options” were being considered regarding the migrants.

(Additional reporting by Veronica Gomez in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham and Tom Brown)

Migrant caravan could be in Mexico City by Friday: Honduran official

A young migrant, traveling with a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, sleeps atop baggage resting on a stroller while looking to go to Arriaga from Pijijiapan, Mexico October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Delphine Schrank

PIJIJIAPAN, Mexico (Reuters) – A caravan of Central Americans bound for the United States that has drawn fire from U.S. President Donald Trump could reach Mexico City by next Friday, the Honduran ambassador to Mexico said on Friday.

Trump has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Central America to try to stop the caravan of several thousand people. U.S. officials have said that up to 1,000 troops may be sent to the U.S. southern border to prevent the migrants from crossing.

The caravan, moving through the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, has enabled Trump to campaign hard on illegal immigration ahead of midterm congressional elections on Nov. 6, in which Republicans are battling to keep control of Congress.

Mexico’s government has said that more than 1,700 people in the convoy have registered for asylum, while others have returned home. Estimates on the size of the group vary.

Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador to Mexico, told Mexican radio that the caravan could reach Mexico City by next Friday. He put an “official” headcount at 3,500, estimating that at least two-thirds of them were Hondurans.

The caravan set off in Honduras nearly two weeks ago, and has picked up other Central Americans en route. Rivera said it was not clear which route it would pursue in the coming days.

Alexander Fernandez, a Honduran traveling in the caravan, said people began leaving the town of Pijijiapan at about 3 a.m. to head for Arriaga, a town in the west of Chiapas. He said a stop was planned in the town of Tonala.

A banner hanging over a bridge on the migrants’ path read: “Your hearts are brave, don’t give up.”

Tens of thousands of Central Americans set off for the United States every year, looking to escape violence and poverty. Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans make up the bulk of illegal immigrants apprehended at the U.S. border.

On Thursday night, thousands of people took refuge under small tents or teepees made from garbage bags in Pijijiapan’s town square. Many people rushed to a nearby river in the afternoon to wash off the sweat of travel and extreme heat.

A White House official said on Thursday that “a wide range of administrative, legal and legislative options” were being considered regarding the migrants.

(Additional reporting by Veronica Gomez in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham)

U.S. military receives request for troops to protect border

By Phil Stewart and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military has received a request from the Department of Homeland Security for active-duty troops on the U.S.-Mexico border, a U.S. official said on Thursday, after President Donald Trump said he was “bringing out the military” to guard against a caravan of Central American migrants trekking through Mexico.

The U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. military was examining the request that could require deploying between 800 and 1,000 active-duty troops to the border to assist with logistics and infrastructure.

The U.S. official said that any troops deployed to the border would not be involved in “law enforcement” activities, something that would be prohibited by a federal law dating to the 1870s.

That law restricts the use of the Army and other main branches of the military for civilian law enforcement on U.S. soil unless specifically authorized by Congress. But the military can provide support services to law enforcement and has done so on occasion since the 1980s.

Some specific statutes authorize the president to deploy troops within the United States for riot control or relief efforts after natural disasters.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has taken a hard line toward immigration – legal and illegal – since becoming president last year. On Monday, Trump said he had alerted the Border Patrol and the U.S. military that the migrant caravan was a national emergency.

Despite raising Trump’s ire, thousands of Central American men, women and children seeking to escape violence, poverty and government corruption in their home countries continued their journey toward the distant U.S. border. Under a full moon early on Thursday, they walked from Mapastepec, close to the Guatemala border in southern Mexico. A town official said there had been 5,300 migrants in Mapastepec on Wednesday night.

A second group of more than a thousand people has started a similar journey from Guatemala.

“I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the migrants.

White House officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump’s comments regarding a military deployment and a national emergency.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to make the caravan and immigration major issues ahead of the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections in which the party is trying to maintain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It is not new territory for Trump, who pledged during the 2016 presidential race to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico. However, funding for his signature campaign promise has been slow to materialize even though his party controls Congress and the White House.

In April, frustrated by lack of progress on the wall, Trump ordered the National Guard to help secure the border in four southwestern states. There are currently 2,100 National Guard troops along the borders of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Also in April, Trump raised the prospect of sending active-duty military forces to the border to block illegal immigration, raising questions in Congress and among legal experts about troop deployments on American soil.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Delphine Schrank in Mapastepec, Mexico; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Will Dunham)

U.S.-bound Central American migrants on the move in Mexico

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, take a shower in the Mapastepec city center, Mexico October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Delphine Schrank and Ana Isabel Martinez

MAPASTEPEC, Mexico/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Central American migrants clustered for the night on Wednesday in a southern Mexico town after advancing on their trek toward the United States, despite Mexico’s vows to hinder their progress under pressure from the Trump administration.

Thousands of men, women and children, mostly from Honduras, shuffled throughout the afternoon into the town of Mapastepec in Chiapas state, still more than 1,100 miles (1,770 km) from the U.S. border.

A migrant woman rests roadside with her child while traveling with a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States as they make their way to Mapastepec from Huixtla, Mexico October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

A migrant woman rests roadside with her child while traveling with a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States as they make their way to Mapastepec from Huixtla, Mexico October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

As nightfall came and rain began to pour, they camped out on sidewalks in the small town, wrapping knapsacks in plastic and huddling beneath awnings.

Their trek has drawn the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has used the migrant caravan to fire up support for his Republican party in Nov. 6 congressional elections.

It has also prompted Washington to put pressure on the Mexican government to halt the migrants’ progress.

The caravan, which began as a march of a few hundred people from the crime-wracked Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Oct. 13, swelled into the thousands as it was joined by migrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Mexican immigration authorities have told the migrants they will not be able to cross illegally into the United States.

Alex Mensing of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group that organized a previous migrant caravan that angered Trump in April, said on Wednesday the current caravan is comprised of about 10,000 people.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras is accompanying the caravan, which Mensing forecast would fragment in due course.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, are seen dancing in the Mapastepec city center, Mexico October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, are seen dancing in the Mapastepec city center, Mexico October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

“It’s very unlikely that 10,000 people will arrive together at a border city between Mexico and the United States,” he told a conference call with reporters.

“There will be people who stay in Mexico, there will be people who go to different borders because everyone has their own plan and different support where they have family members.”

Migrants began departing Huixtla in the wee hours of the morning, fanning out for about a mile and half on the road toward Mapastepec. They walked in flip flops and old sneakers. Many hitched rides from hundreds of cars, trucks and public transportation.

A Chiapas church group said they cooked for a full day, then drove over an hour from the mountains to reach the caravan, where they handed out coffee, sugary bread and tamales, cornmeal patties stuffed with meat and vegetables.

Every time they stopped to serve, migrants flung their small packs aboard their pickup, hoping to catch a ride.

“No, no,” church volunteer Liz Magail Rodriguez said, pointing to the containers of food. “With these tamales, you’ll have energy to walk all day.”

On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called U.S. Vice President Mike Pence “crazy” and “extremist” for accusing his government of financing the caravan. Pence said on Tuesday that the group was “financed by Venezuela,” without providing evidence.

Mexican authorities have tried to walk a fine line between responding to Trump’s demands to close its borders and respecting migrants’ rights.

Mexico’s interior ministry said in a statement on Wednesday evening that about 3,630 people are part of the migrant caravan in Mexico that was advancing from Huixtla, around 30 miles (50 km) north of the Guatemalan border, to Mapastepec.

Reuters could not independently verify how many people were in that group.

A separate group of least 1,000 migrants, mostly Hondurans, has been moving slowly through Guatemala toward Mexico. Some media have put the number above 2,000.

(Additional reporting by Jose Cortes in Mapastepec, Corina Pons and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Writing by Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Tom Brown, Toni Reinhold)