A caravan of migrants is heading towards the US border

Thousands of migrants departed southern Mexico last week in one of the largest caravans trying to reach the United States in recent years. The mass movement coincided with a recent meeting in Los Angeles of leaders from the Western Hemisphere, where migration is a major focus.

Although migrant caravans have become a popular phenomenon and are often disrupted by authorities long before they reach the southern US border, the latest march by about 6,000 people walked along the road. Mexican highways have attracted considerable international attention.

Many of the migrants are from Venezuela and have walked hundreds of miles through jungles and across multiple borders before reaching Mexico. Upon arrival in Mexico, a migrant is typically required to remain in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula until Mexican authorities issue a humanitarian visa to travel further, a process that can take months.

“Tapachula has become a giant prison for migrants,” said Luis García Villagrán, a spokesman for the caravan. “The Mexican authorities have a bottleneck, a bureaucratic fence, a bureaucratic wall, which is clearly under pressure from the United States.”

Mr. García said in a phone interview that, instead of languishing in Tapachula, some migrants pay traffickers, many of whom have links to organized crime, or bribes. expose immigration officials to speed up progress.

Still others, he said, are trying to bypass the Mexican visa process and join groups heading north, which he believes will make it harder for Mexican authorities to stop progress. their level.

A spokesman for Mexico’s National Migration Institute said it was working to provide legal paperwork for migrants in Tapachula.

Spokesperson Natalia Gómez Quintero said: “A good portion of the people who make up the caravan already have documents.

However, the Mexican National Guard, as seen in the photo below, is often deployed to stem the flow of migrants northward.

Stories of mistreatment of migrants are common. A report by Human Rights Watch released last week found that “migrants and refugees entering Mexico via its southern border face abuse and struggle for protection.” or legal status.”

Last year, Mexico detained more than 300,000 migrants – the highest number on record, according to Human Rights Watch, while more than 130,000 sought asylum in the country. Such numbers have “overwhelmed” Mexico’s asylum system, the report said.

The presence of many Venezuelans in the caravan follows a change in Mexico’s policy towards migrants from the South American country, which has been decimated by political and economic crises. Since January, Venezuelans have needed visas to enter Mexico, a rule many try to circumvent by crossing in large groups at the land border rather than by plane.

Below, Rusbeli Martínez pushes a cart with her son and other family members. After leaving Venezuela many years ago, the family has lived in Colombia, where some 1.7 million Venezuelans emigrate. But in Colombia, she said, they found a harsh reception and little work.

“We live in an area with a lot of crime – they threatened us that we should leave,” Ms. Martínez said. “Otherwise they’ll burn the house down.”

Many Venezuelans in search of a better existence took the difficult road overland, including hiking through the Darién Gap, a rugged, roadless jungle east of Panama and northwestern Colombia. In the first five months of the year, more than 32,000 migrants, including more than 16,000 Venezuelans, crossed the border, according to Panama’s National Immigration Service.

Eduardo Colmenares Pérez, a Venezuelan immigrant who crossed the distance with his pregnant son and wife, said the robbers stole all of their belongings. “They left us with no money, no food, no clothes, nothing.”

Young men made up a large number of the convoy, but there were also many families with children. About 3,000 minors traveled in groups, According to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Below, in a park in the town of Álvaro Obregón, a child plays, while other young people sing.

Most of those in the delegation were poor and hoped for better opportunities in the United States. But some are also fleeing violence and abuse, including a group of LGBTQ migrants who have described the discrimination they face in Venezuela and along the way.

Below, Maiquel Tejada, Yeider Rodríguez and Jesús Rangel had gathered during a respite in the caravan’s journey. “In Venezuela and the surrounding regions of Caracas, we are not accepted,” said Rodríguez, the center. “We must suppress ourselves, to pretend to be something that we are not.”

Others say they face persecution for being outsiders. Yuliet Mora and her family left Venezuela and moved to Colombia and then Peru. But she said they were forced to leave because of xenophobia. In the first photo below, Ms. Mora sits under an improvised tent in Álvaro Obregón.

Roselys Guetiérrez and María Gómez, in the second photo below, are Venezuelans who used to live in Colombia, but left after they said they were assaulted for holding hands on the street in Bogotá.

“We decided to go through the forest – it was quite difficult,” Ms. Gutiérrez said. “I’m pretty hurt because of everything I’ve lived in the jungle, all that we’ve been through. But thank God I’m here hoping for something better.”

Some migrants decided to leave the caravan after Mexican immigration officials in the town of Huixtla in Chiapas state issued them a temporary permit allowing them to freely transit the country towards the border for 30 days. According to Mr. García, a spokesman for the caravan. Other migrants have decided to leave the caravan altogether, exhausted by a trek that often entails miles of walking each day, often in blazing sun or torrential rains.

Mexico is rife with danger, especially from organized crime groups known to kidnap migrants and hold them for ransom, often paid for by relatives in the US. Caravans provide some safety in numbers, but Mexican authorities are known to have dispersed caravans by force.

Below, Venezuelan migrants stand on the roof of an immigrant detention center in Tapachula after an uprising that migrants say is caused by poor sanitation, lack of food, and overcrowding. and delays in migration and asylum applications.

“We are not criminals,” says one migrant, Valentina Alfonso, left, in the second photo below. She said her uncle was detained by Mexican authorities for several days. “We are professionals, we have our careers and our studies,” said Ms. Alfonso. “This is inhumane.”

With temperatures that can reach 100 degrees, the caravan often departs long before dawn. Below, a Venezuelan migrant pushed another migrant in a wheelchair as the caravan passed through the night.

Colmenares, who spent five days in Mexico after crossing the Darién Gap, often relies on the generosity of migrants for food.

“I felt outraged, helpless, because I had to give up my country,” he said.

A US official said the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the caravan’s progress but suggested that migrants making the journey on foot often did not make it to the border.

Despite the difficulties, Mr. Colmares said he only thinks about the way forward. “What drives me to keep going is to find my American dream,” he said. “To give my son a better future.”

Bryan Avelar contribution report.

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