Chaos erupts as caravan reaches Mexico border

Posted at 6:27 PM, Oct 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-19 18:27:51-04

A massive caravan of Honduran migrants — many with children in tow — cheered and chanted as they streamed toward a crossing at the Guatemala-Mexico border Friday.

A chaotic scene unfolded as a massive caravan of Honduran migrants reached the Guatemala-Mexico border Friday.

A surge of migrants broke through a steel fence that had been padlocked shut. Mexican police in riot gear set off smoke canisters and pushed them back.

Hundreds of Mexican Federal Police sealed the border as drones and helicopters hovered above the crowd.

Mexican authorities later opened the gates and allowed about 15 women and children through.

Thousands of other migrants are still waiting to cross, according to CNN teams at the scene.

At least a dozen migrants stuck on the bridge jumped into the Suchiate River below. It was unclear if they were trying to swim across to the Mexico side of border, go back to Guatemala or just get relief from the crowds on the bridge.

Some of the migrants on the bridge told CNN they joined the caravan because they were desperate for work and had no other choice.

Mexican officials have said people seeking asylum will be processed at Mexico’s southern border. But it’s unclear what will happen next.

Click here to get the latest updates from the Mexico-Guatemala border

Four Mexican police officers were injured in the standoff at the Mexican border, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

Speaking to reporters on a tarmac in Mexico City, where he’d been meeting with leaders about the caravan and other matters, Pompeo accused the caravan of using women and children “as shields as they make their way through.”

“This is an organized effort to come through and violate the sovereignty of Mexico,” Pompeo said. “We’re prepared to do all that we can to support the decisions that Mexico makes about how they’re going to address this very serious and important issue to their country.”

Pompeo said he had a “good conversation” with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and that the two countries are jointly focused on the caravan issue, but “the Mexican government is making all the decisions on how to address this.”

“They are fully engaged, they sent 500 federales down to the southern border,” Pompeo said, noting that he wanted to “express his sympathy” for the injured officers.

“That’s evidence of what this really is,” he said.

US President Donald Trump, who’s been criticizing the caravan with fiery tweets all week, reiterated his threat Friday that if Mexico doesn’t stop the migrants, he’ll take more drastic action.

“If that doesn’t work out, we’re calling up the military, not the guard, we’re calling up the military and we’re going to have the military stationed,” Trump said. “They’re not coming into this country. They might as well turn back.”

Trump has also threatened to cut foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Trekking across countries, bound for the US

Members of the caravan — many with children in tow — gathered in the border city of Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Friday morning. They waited in sweltering heat for hours for others to arrive, packing streets for blocks on end.

They they streamed through gates on the Guatemalan side of the border around 12 p.m. Friday (2 p.m. ET), cheering and chanting as they marched. Celebratory airhorns blared as they headed toward Mexico’s port of entry.

After days of traveling, often on foot, they appeared to be one step closer to reaching their goal.

The caravan formed Saturday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and arrived in Guatemala on Monday. Migrants in the group told CNN en Español they were bound for the United States, seeking work and fleeing political corruption and violence

Leaders throughout the region have publicly urged them to turn back for days.

Will they reach the US border?

Mexican authorities haven’t said whether anyone from the caravan will be permitted to travel to the US border.

They’ve previously outlined how they planned to respond to the group, stating:

  • Anyone with a valid visa will be able to enter and move freely.
  • Anyone who wants to be recognized as a refugee or as a beneficiary of “complementary protection measures” must do so individually. Those who do so will be held “at a migratory station” for up to 45 business days.
  • Anyone who enters “in an irregular manner” will be “rescued and subject to an administrative procedure and, where appropriate, will be returned to their country of origin in a safe and orderly manner.”

Mexican authorities also have said they’re asking for help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to process migrants seeking refugee status.

This appears to be a shift from previous policies, in which humanitarian or transit visas were issued, and migrants were given the option of continuing their journey north if they didn’t want to seek asylum in Mexico.

This past spring, when another caravan of Central American migrants crossed into Mexico, such policies allowed that group to make it to the US border.

This caravan’s formation comes just weeks before high-stakes midterm elections in the United States, in which many Republican candidates have been echoing the President’s messaging about boosting border security and cracking down on illegal immigration.

Trump has pointed to the caravan as a key issue in the upcoming election, describing the group’s approach as an assault on the US border. Immigrant rights advocates have accused his administration of trying to create a crisis to motivate his base.