By SONIA PEREZ D., Associated Press
JUCHITAN, Mexico (AP) — Thousands of Central American migrants resumed their slow trek through southern Mexico on Thursday, and activists aiding the group said they were shifting their route toward the Gulf coast, a path closer to the Texas border.
The migrants set out before dawn after taking a day’s break in the Oaxaca state city of Juchitan. The activists said they would try to reach the town of Matias Romero, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) ahead.
They had tried to arrange bus transport from Juchitan, but failed, leaving them once again on foot, hitch-hiking and looking for rides where they can find them.
The migrants have not said what route they intend to take northward or where on the U.S. border they planned to reach, and Juchitan, still about 900 miles from U.S. soil, was something of a crossroads.
While Matias Romero would carry them toward the Gulf coast city of Veracruz and a route toward the Texas border, another large caravan early this year passed through Veracruz and then veered back toward Mexico City and eventually tried to head to Tijuana in the far northwest. Few made it.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday praised Mexico for stopping the migrants from getting rides. “Mexico has stepped up in an unprecedented way,” Sanders told Fox News. “They have helped stop a lot of the transportation means of these individuals in these caravans, forcing them walking. They have helped us in new ways to slow this down, to break this up and keep it from moving as aggressively toward the United States.”
But U.S. President Donald Trump ramped up his pre-election focus on the caravan and others behind it, talking of creating a U.S. military force on the border that would outnumber the migrants, many of them women and children.
“As far as the caravan is concerned, our military is out,” Trump said. “We have about 5,800. We’ll go up to anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border.”
Later Wednesday, Trump told ABC News, “We have to have a wall of people.”
A second, smaller group of 1,000 or so migrants is more than 200 miles behind the first caravan. A third band of about 500 from El Salvador made it to Guatemala, and a fourth group of about 700 set out from the Salvadoran capital Wednesday.
Altogether, the four caravans represent just a few days’ worth of the average flow of migrants to the United States in recent years.
Similar caravans have occurred regularly over the years and passed largely unnoticed, but Trump has focused on the latest marchers seeking to make border security a hot-button issue in next week’s midterm elections.
Worn down by days of long walks, many migrants have dropped out and returned home or applied for protected status in Mexico.
The initial caravan has shrunk significantly from its estimated peak of more than 7,000 migrants. A caravan last the spring ultimately fizzled to just about 200 people who reached the U.S. border at San Diego.
Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida said about 2,300 migrants have applied to stay in Mexico under a government plan, and hundreds more have accepted assisted repatriation.
Also Wednesday, a Guatemalan woman gave birth to the first known caravan baby at a hospital in Juchitan. Mexico’s governmental National Human Rights Commission said it had arranged for medical attention for the woman, who was 28 weeks pregnant, and the girl was healthy.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.