Thousands of migrants from Honduras have entered Guatemala and are planning to travel further north to the United States. This could represent an early test of the immigration policy of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has pledged to ease the Trump administration’s asylum restrictions.
After a few hundred people were able to pass the border police on Friday, thousands more followed to Guatemala on Saturday. Officials said between 7,000 and 9,000 people have entered the country, many bypassing coronavirus controls.
The government of Guatemala said it “regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on the Central American governments to take action to avoid putting their residents and the communities they roam through in the face of the pandemic.”
Migrants are expected to continue to encounter obstacles on their way. The Guatemalan authorities set up checkpoints, blocked parts of the caravan not far from their entry into Guatemala and were able to take some of the migrants back home by bus, The Associated Press reported.
Mexican authorities have dispatched additional troops and immigration officers along the country’s southern border in anticipation of the caravan.
“In our national territory we must ensure orderly, safe and regular migration, respecting human rights and humanitarian policy,” said Francisco Garduño Yáñez, head of the National Immigration Institute in Mexico, in a statement on Friday.
Members of the group told reporters they were forced to escape the crime, poverty and homelessness exacerbated by the pandemic and two hurricanes late last year.
“We have nothing to feed our children and thousands of us have slept on the street,” Maria Jesus Paz, mother of four, told Reuters. She said her family lost their homes in the storms and forced her to flee.
“That’s why we’re making this decision, knowing that the trip could cost us our lives,” she added.
The successive hurricanes that struck Central America in November “devastated livelihoods in a region already facing economic downturn and where the incomes of thousands of families had already plummeted as a result of the pandemic,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday.
The Trump administration has made a number of agreements with Mexico and Central American countries to prevent migrants from reaching the United States. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner for customs and border protection, said Saturday that Guatemala is continuing to enforce this agreement.
“Guatemala continues to support the regional alliance committed to safe, orderly and legal migration and the protection of public health during the global pandemic,” Morgan said on Twitter. Guatemala’s immigration service “is already returning caravan members to Honduras after illegally entering Guatemala.”
During the presidential campaign, Mr Biden said he would act quickly to lift the Trump administration’s stricter asylum restrictions, which disqualified people not seeking refuge on their way to the United States and forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.
On his first day in office, Mr. Biden plans to ask Congress for a major overhaul of immigration laws. This proposal, which will be released Wednesday, includes a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States, assistance to damaged Central American economies, and plans to help people escape violence.
Last month, in an effort to stave off a run on the border, Mr Biden warned that changes to immigration policy could not be made immediately after he took office and that his administration would need “likely the next six months” to develop a “more humane policy” for processing migrants.