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Migrant caravan presses on toward the U.S. by foot, denied buses by Mexico

Thousands of Central American migrants resumed their slow trek through southern Mexico on Thursday, as immigration agents and police threatened at the edges of the two caravans currently in the country.

Mexican authorities haven't directly targeted the main caravan of about 4,000 migrants

Concerns over potential food and water shortages at caravan pit stops is forcing many migrants on their way to the Mexico-U.S. border to choose between staying to refuel and moving on. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Thousands of Central American migrants resumed their slow trek through southern Mexico on Thursday, as the two caravans currently in the country faced pressure from immigration agents and police.

Mexican authorities haven't directly targeted the main caravan of about 4,000 migrants, and activists aiding that group said they were shifting their route toward the Gulf coast, a path closer to the Texas border.

But a second, smaller caravan, about 320 km behind the first group, appeared to be more leaderless and more vulnerable. It was getting less press attention.

The larger group 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.

CBC News correspondent Susan Ormiston, who is with that group of migrants, tweeted they are not deterred by threats and warnings.

Mexican police began pulling freight trucks over and forcing migrants off, saying their habit of clinging to the tops or sides of the trucks was dangerous.

"Get off! Get off!" police officer Benjamin Grajeda shouted to a group of migrants clinging to the side of a truck outside Juchitan. "You can ride inside, but not on the outside."

At other points along the route, police have forced overloaded pickups to disgorge migrants. On previous days, they have ordered passenger vans to stop transporting migrants.

Migrants weighing options

Thousands of migrants descended on the southern Mexican town of Donaji on their U.S.-bound march, but concerns over potential food and water shortages brought on by the sheer size of the caravan is forcing many to choose between staying to refuel and moving on.

A Mexican human rights official told CBC's Susan Ormiston that the co-ordination within the caravan is deteriorating more and more each day, and that it has begun to splinter between those who want to reach the U.S. as quickly as possible and others — such as families — who need the resources of the caravan and towns like Donaji.

Watch: Migrant caravan splintering over resources

Concerns over potential food and water shortages at caravan pit stops is forcing many migrants on their way to the Mexico-U.S. border to choose between staying to refuel and moving on. 1:20

Hundreds had already departed by midday Friday and continued toward the nearest town about 90 kilometres away, but those in need are mulling staying and toughing out the poor conditions — heavy rain overnight flooded the camp site — joining the others or even turning back.

One woman who spoke to CBC said she's reconsidering her options, citing U.S. President Donald Trump's pledge to send troops to the U.S. border.

'Worth the effort'

Red Cross personnel bandaged the swollen feet of Honduran farmer Omar Lopez, who has been pounding the hot asphalt of highways every day for the last two weeks and spending nights on concrete sidewalks with just a thin sheet of plastic for cover. Lopez said playing soccer back home had given him stamina but the "exaggerated" walk has taken its toll.

"The sacrifice is worth the effort," Lopez said. "I promised to buy my son a real motorcycle and I'm going to make good. I promised him many other things ... not only things, I also want to give them education. Everything good costs money."

Susan Ormiston set out on foot with the migrants again today, and saw what desperation leads them to do: 

Susan Ormiston reports that the migrants are not deterred by threats, warnings, or Mexico's move to block their access to buses. 1:45

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders 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."

The Mexican government has, in fact, taken a fairly contradictory stance on helping or hindering the caravan, reflecting the country's balancing act: Officials don't want to irk Trump, but Mexicans themselves have long suffered mistreatment as migrants.

Central America migrants in Juchitan, Mexico, will have to continue on foot towards the United States after failing to acquire buses. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

For the first week of the caravan, Mexican federal police sometimes enforced obscure safety rules, forcing migrants off paid mini-buses, citing insurance regulations. They also stopped some overloaded pickup trucks carrying migrants and forced them to get off.

But in recent days, officials from Mexico's immigrant protection agency have organized rides for straggling women and children as a humanitarian effort. And police have routinely stood by as migrants piled aboard freight trucks.

More caravans en route

A second, smaller group of 1,000 or so migrants is more than 320 kilometres 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.

Migrants received medical care in a makeshift camp in Juchitan, with one saying the 'sacrifice is worth the effort.' (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The Pentagon has announced it is sending 5,200 troops to the southwest border, with their role largely limited to such activities as providing helicopter support, installing concrete barriers and maintaining vehicles. Trump said Wednesday that number could go as high as 15,000.

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.

With files from CBC News