Video footage of hundreds of Central American migrants clashing with Mexican security forces on a rural highway in southern Mexico went viral Thursday night. The migrants in the video, which was taken by a reporter with Reforma newspaper, were the remnants of a caravan that initially numbered about 4,000 and were attempting to cross the Mexico-Guatemala border since early this week.
The caravan was the largest in more than a year, similar in size to caravans that formed at the height of the border crisis last spring, when groups of hundreds of Central Americans were regularly crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, overwhelming border officials.
This particular caravan consisted mostly of Honduran migrants, including women and small children, who were turned back Monday by Mexican security forces on an international bridge over the Suchiate River connecting Guatemala and Mexico. The caravan regrouped and in the early morning hours Thursday crossed upriver on foot. According to a report from the Associated Press, Mexican national guardsmen waited for the caravan outside the community of Frontera Hidalgo, near Ciudad Hidalgo where the migrants crossed the Suchiate River.
Migrantes centroamericanos fueron contenidos por elementos de la Guardia Nacional, sobre la carretera federal Suchiate-Tapachula, para impedir su avance por el País tras cruzar el río Suchiate.
🎥Édgar Hernández pic.twitter.com/NKXaSPd5uL
— REFORMA Nacional (@reformanacional) January 23, 2020
In the video, national guardsmen in riot gear advance on a large group of migrants on the highway, banging batons on their plastic shields. When the groups finally come to together, the migrants push back and a general engagement ensues. National guardsmen can be seen pepper spraying some migrants and grappling with others amid the cries of women and children in the background.
Earlier in the week, hundreds of migrants had been arrested, including unaccompanied minors, after crossing the Suchiate River. All told, by Thursday Mexican security forces had arrested some 900 migrants and were looking for several hundred more believed to have slipped past security forces. Mexican authorities said many of those arrested would be immediately deported to their home countries, while others might be allowed to apply for asylum in Mexico.
A video report from the New York Times showed Mexican security officials allowing small groups from the caravan into the country, purportedly to break it up and reduce the risk of a large-scale confrontation. Upon being allowed in, the migrants were greeted by an announcement over loudspeakers saying, “Don’t be fooled. It is not a fact that the United States will grant asylum. On the contrary, they could sends you back to Guatemala.”
Mexico deals a third and final blow to the migrant caravan that left Hondurans last week, with GN detaining some 900 men, women and children in a showdown on the road to Tapachula. pic.twitter.com/3a6L9TDIIH
— Brent McDonald (@docubrent) January 23, 2020
The warning is accurate. Over the past six months, the Trump administration forced some 60,000 Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S. to return to Mexico for the duration of their cases. U.S. authorities have also deported migrants from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala, after the Trump administration signing an agreement with the Guatemalan government.
The caravan this week is a stark reminder that many people in Central America remain determined to make it to the U.S. despite new measures from the Trump administration and a crackdown by Mexican authorities. Many migrants reportedly are unaware of these new policies and believe they will be allowed to pass through Mexico en route to the United States.
It’s also a reminder of the degree to which the Trump administration’s solution to the border crisis relies almost entirely on the willingness and capacity of Mexican security forces to control Mexico’s southern border and carry out large-scale deportations of Central Americans. Whether that approach is sustainable remains to be seen, especially as spring approaches, when migrant numbers typically increase with the milder weather.