Thousands of Honduran migrants headed for the United States were met with strong resistance once they entered Guatemala over the weekend of October 2. Police and military officials set up roadblocks and then transported many of them back to their country’s border, according to the Associated Press.
They were primarily targeted because Guatemala’s president saw them as a contagion risk amid the coronavirus pandemic, and “Mexico’s president speculated that the caravan was a plot to influence the U.S. elections,” the AP reports.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the Guatemalan government and United Nations officials estimate that roughly 3,000 to 4,000 Honduran migrants entered the country on Thursday (October 1). At that point, all but a few hundred “failed to register with immigration agents or provide the required evidence of a negative coronavirus test result,” The Times reports.
On Friday (October 2), more than 100 Guatemalan soldiers and police blocked the group, which was already struggling due to a lack of food after leaving Honduras earlier in the week.
Reports The Times:
The Guatemalan government declared a state of prevention in eastern regions—limiting freedom of movement—and deployed the army and police to stop the caravan. Within a day and a half, 2,065 Hondurans were deported. They were “voluntary returnees,” according to Guatemalan authorities, but most were stopped by security forces.
Olvin Suazo, 21, spoke to the AP about his journey with the caravan. He said he was with three friends from his hometown of Santa Barbara, Honduras, when they noticed something was wrong. “We were resting and the bigger group continued. We didn’t know what happened to them,” he said. In spite of the massive roundup of fellow travelers, “we’re going to continue,” Suazo insisted.
According to the AP:
By 5 a.m. Saturday, none of [the thousands of] migrants who had been stalled by police and soldiers remained along a stretch of rural highway remained. Police said that hours earlier, migrants had boarded buses and army trucks to be taken back to the border.
Small groups of fewer than 10 migrants each could still be found walking along the highway before the roadblock Saturday morning.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested Friday that the thousands of U.S.-bound Honduran migrants were organized as some sort of political ploy to impact the American presidential election. “I think it has to do with the election in the United States,” López Obrador said, according to the AP. “I don’t have all the elements, but there are indications that it formed with that purpose. I don’t know to whose benefit, but we’re not naive.”
Mexico’s point man on the coronavirus pandemic, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, on the other hand, told the AP that migrants didn’t represent a health threat and that Mexico was “morally, legally and politically obliged to help them.”
Reports the AP:
Migrant caravans from Central America gained popularity in recent years because they provided some degree of safety in numbers and allowed those who couldn’t afford to pay a smuggler to attempt the trip to the United States.
At first, they received generous support from the communities they passed, especially in southern Mexico. Last year, however, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened crippling tariffs on Mexican imports if it didn’t slow the flow of migrants to the U.S. border. Mexico responded by deploying the National Guard and more immigration agents to intercept large groups of migrants.
Mexico this week is threatening to prosecute people who attempt to break immigration laws and “knowingly put public health at risk,” according to the AP.
The United States has temporarily halted legal immigration into the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, which makes illegal entry into the country even more challenging.