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)

Trump vows to cut Central America aid, calls migrant caravan an emergency

Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he has told the U.S. military and border authorities that a migrant caravan heading toward the United States from Central America represented a national emergency, as he vowed to cut aid to the region.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote in a series of posts on Twitter.

Since Trump became president last year, the United States has already moved to sharply decrease aid to Central America.

In 2016, the United States provided some $131.2 million in aid to Guatemala, $98.3 million to Honduras, and $67.9 million to El Salvador, according to official U.S. data. By next year, those sums were projected to fall to $69.4 million for Guatemala, $65.8 million for Honduras, and $45.7 million in the case of El Salvador. Combined, the cuts amount to a reduction of almost 40 percent for the three nations.

Thousands of mostly Honduran migrants crowded into the Mexican border city of Tapachula over the weekend after trekking on foot from the Guatemalan border, defying threats by Trump that he will close the U.S.-Mexico border if they advanced, as well as warnings from the Mexican government.

Mexican police in riot gear shadowed the caravan’s arrival along a southern highway but did not impede the migrants’ journey.

“Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States,” Trump wrote in a tweet, adding: “I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy.”

Trump, who has taken a hard line toward illegal immigration since taking office last year, gave no other details about his administration’s actions.

Representatives for the White House and the U.S. Border Patrol did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Representatives for the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department referred questions to the White House.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to elevate the caravan as a campaign issue ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections in which his party is fighting to maintain control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Congress has failed to fully fund Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, which he has argued is needed to combat illegal immigration.

NATIONAL GUARD AT BORDER

In April, Trump raised the prospect of sending military forces to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigrants, raising questions in Congress and among legal experts about troop deployments on U.S. soil.

A 19th-century federal law restricts using the Army and other main branches of the military for civilian law enforcement on American 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.

Later in April, Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized up to 4,000 National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the border if four Southwestern U.S. states.

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

Trump, who has made immigration a central part of his platform, earlier threatened to halt aid to the region, and potentially close the U.S. border with Mexico with the help of the military if the migrants’ march is not stopped.

Trump travels to Texas, a key border state, later on Monday to campaign for Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz, who challenged Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is seeking re-election.

In a tweet on Monday, Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio wrote: “While unlawful migration to U.S. from Central America is caused by real crisis, the migrant ‘caravan’ was manufactured by supporters of a radical agenda who are using poor and desperate people to try and embarrass and undermine the U.S. in the region. But it’s going to backfire on them.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Immigrant caravan organizer detained after Trump threatens Honduras

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., are seen during a new leg of their travel in Esquipulas, Guatemala October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

By Doina Chiacu and Jorge Cabrera

WASHINGTON/ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala (Reuters) – The organizer of a migrant caravan from Honduras was detained on Tuesday in Guatemala after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw funding and aid from Honduras if the flow of migrants north to the United States was not stopped.

Guatemalan police officers detained Bartolo Fuentes, a former member of the Honduran Congress, from the middle of a large crowd he and three other organizers had led from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, since Saturday, bound for Mexico.

The Honduran security ministry said Fuentes was detained because he “did not comply with Guatemalan immigration rules” and would be deported back to Honduras in the coming hours.

Up to 3,000 migrants, according to organizers’ estimates, crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on Monday on a trek northward, after a standoff with Guatemalan police in riot gear and warnings from Washington that migrants should not try to enter the United States illegally.

Guatemala’s government has not given official figures for how many migrants are in the group.

“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

It was Trump’s latest effort to demonstrate his administration’s tough stance on immigration.

The message was driven home by Vice President Mike Pence, who wrote in a tweet that he had spoken to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

“Delivered strong message from @POTUS: no more aid if caravan is not stopped. Told him U.S. will not tolerate this blatant disregard for our border & sovereignty,” Pence tweeted.

The move could further encourage Honduras to move closer to China because of what the Central American country sees as weak U.S. support, amid intensified efforts by Beijing to win recognition from Central American countries currently aligned with Taiwan.

Hernandez said last month that cuts in U.S. support for Central America would hinder efforts to stem illegal immigration. He welcomed China‚Äôs growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”

In an interview with Reuters, Hernandez lamented that prior U.S. commitments to step up investment in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador had been scaled back since Trump took office.

Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, an island nation off the Chinese coast that Beijing views as a renegade province.

Last week, Pence told Central American countries the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence. Thousands of migrants have left the impoverished region in recent years.

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., board a truck during a new leg of their travel in Esquipulas, Guatemala October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., board a truck during a new leg of their travel in Esquipulas, Guatemala October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

GROWING GROUP

The current group making their way north plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and violence.

The group more than doubled in size from Saturday, when it set off from northern Honduras in what has been dubbed “March of the Migrant,” an organizer said.

“What Trump says doesn’t interest us,” organizer Fuentes said in an interview shortly before his detention. “These people are fleeing. These people are not tourists.”

He was traveling with hoards of men, women and children, packs in hand, walking northward on a Guatemalan highway about 55 miles (89 km) from the border with Honduras.

Widespread violence and poverty prompt thousands of Central Americans, mainly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to make the arduous journey north toward Mexico and the United States in search of a better life.

Guatemala said in a statement on Sunday that it did not promote or endorse “irregular migration.” Guatemalan police initially blocked migrants from reaching a customs booth, Reuters images showed.

Trump ran for president in 2016 on promises to toughen U.S. immigration policies and build a wall along the 2,000-mile(3,220-km) border with Mexico.

Illegal immigration is likely to be a top issue in Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections when Democrats are seen as having a good chance of gaining control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s fellow Republicans.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Jorge Cabera in Esquipulas, Guatemala; additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)