Mexico begins flying, busing migrants back to Honduras

Hundreds of Central American migrants who entered southern Mexico in recent days have either been pushed back into Guatemala by Mexican troops, shipped to detention centres or returned to Honduras, officials said Tuesday. An unknown number slipped past Mexican authorities and continued north.

About 1,000 migrants from Central America tried to cross from Guatemala to Mexico on Monday

Central American migrants approach Mexican National Guard troops after crossing the Suchiate River from Guatemala to Mexico on Monday. On Tuesday, Mexico began sending many of them back to their homelands, while others retreated back across the border. (Marco Ugarte/The Associated Press)

Hundreds of Central American migrants who entered southern Mexico in recent days have either been pushed back into Guatemala by Mexican troops, shipped to detention centres or returned to Honduras, officials said Tuesday. An unknown number slipped past Mexican authorities and continued north.

The latest migrant caravan provided a public platform for Mexico to show the U.S. government and migrants thinking of making the trip that it has refined its strategy and produced its desired result: This caravan will not advance past its southern border.

What remained unclear was the treatment of the migrants who already find themselves on their way back to the countries they fled last week.

"Mexico doesn't have the capacity to process so many people in such a simple way in a couple of days," said Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University studying how the caravans form.

The caravan of thousands had set out from Honduras last week in hopes Mexico would grant them passage, posing a fresh test for U.S. President Donald Trump's effort to reduce the flow of migrants arriving at the U.S. border by pressuring other governments to stop them.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said 2,400 of the migrants entered Mexico legally over the weekend. About 1,000 of them requested Mexico's help in returning to their countries. The rest were being held in immigration centres while they start legal processes that would allow them to seek refuge in Mexico or obtain temporary work permits that would confine them to southern Mexico.

'No country's policy sustains us'

On Tuesday afternoon, Jesus, a young father from Honduras who offered only his first name, rested in a shelter in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, with his wife and their baby, unsure of what to do next.

"No country's policy sustains us," he said in response to hearing Ebrard's comments about the situation. "If we don't work, we don't eat. [He] doesn't feed us, doesn't care for our children."

Honduran officials said more than 600 of its citizens were expected to arrive in that country Tuesday by plane and bus and more would follow in the coming days.

Of an additional 1,000 had tried to enter illegally Monday by wading across the Suchiate River, most were either forced back or detained later by immigration agents, according to Mexican officials. Most of the hundreds stranded in the no man's land on the Mexican side of the river returned to Guatemala overnight in search of water, food and a place to sleep.

Alejandro Rendon, head of Mexico's federal social welfare department, said his colleagues were distributing water to those who turned themselves in or who were caught by immigration agents, but were not doing the same along the river because it was not safe for workers to do so.

"It isn't prudent to come here because we can't put the safety of the colleagues at risk," he said.

Honduras files complaint with Mexico

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday the government is trying to protect the migrants from harm by preventing them from traveling illegally through the country. He said they need to respect Mexican laws.

"If we don't take care of them, if we don't know who they are, if we don't have a register, they pass and get to the north, and the criminal gangs grab them and assault them, because that's how it was before," he said. "They disappeared them."

Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero commended the National Guard for its restraint, saying: "In no way has there been an act that we could call repression and not even annoyance."

But Honduras's ambassador to Mexico said there had been instances of excessive force on the part of the National Guard. "We made a complaint before the Mexican government," Alden Rivera said in an interview with HCH Noticias without offering details. He also conceded migrants had thrown rocks at Mexican authorities.

Central American migrants run on the Mexican side of the bank of the Suchiate River after crossing from Guatemala, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on Monday. (Marco Ugarte/The Associated Press)

An Associated Press photograph of a Mexican National Guard soldier holding a migrant in a headlock was sent via Twitter by acting U.S. Homeland Security secretary Ken Cuccinelli with the message: "We appreciate Mexico doing more than they did last year to interdict caravans attempting to move illegally north to our southern border."

The National Guard had no business being placed at the border to handle immigration because they weren't trained for it, said Correa Cabrera, the George Mason professor. The government "is sending a group that doesn't know how to and can't protect human rights because they're trained to do other kinds of things."

"[The Americans] absolutely must be satisfied with [Mexico's] actions because in reality it's their plan," said Correa Cabrera. "They're congratulating themselves, because in reality it wasn't Lopez Obrador's plan."

Mexico announced last June that it was deploying the newly formed National Guard to assist in immigration enforcement to avoid tariffs that Trump threatened on Mexican imports.

Darlin Rene Romero, 25, and his wife were among the few who spent the night pinned between the river and Mexican authorities.

Rumours had circulated through the night that "anything could happen, that being there was very dangerous," Romero said. But the couple from Copan, Honduras, spread a blanket on the ground and passed the night 20 yards from a line of National Guard troops forming a wall with their riot shields.

They remained confident that Mexico would allow them to pass through and were trying to make it to the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, where his sister lives.

They said a return home to impoverished and gang-plagued Honduras, where most of the migrants are from, was unthinkable.