Mexico halts caravan of 2,000 migrants bound for US; critics call roundup a 'human hunt'

A caravan of roughly 2,000 migrants bound for the United States early Saturday was halted by Mexican authorities only a few hours into their journey, according to officials.

The caravan, which consisted of migrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America, left before dawn from Tapachula, a town in southern Mexico near the Guatemalan border, Reuters reported.

Migrants depart early in the morning from Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. 

Migrants depart early in the morning from Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019.  (AP)

Many of the migrants who departed from Tapachula early in the morning had been held up there for weeks or months, awaiting residency or transit papers from Mexican authorities.

About 24 miles into their journey, federal police and national guardsmen blocked their path. Most of the group was detained and put on a bus back to Tapachula, while about 150 migrants returned by foot, witnesses said.

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The abrupt halt of the caravan stood in stark contrast to last year when waves of U.S.-bound caravans – including one of at least 7,000 people – drew widespread media coverage while immigration officials on both sides of the border struggled to stem the flow.

Under pressure from Washington, the government has been taking a tougher stance in dealing with migrants, and many Mexicans are being less welcoming.

President Trump, who frequently described the caravans an “invasion,” brokered a deal with Mexico in June, promising to avert tariffs on imports if Mexico clamped down on U.S.-bound migration.

Salva Lacruz, from the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center in Tapachula, called the roundup on Sunday a "human hunt" and noted officials waited until the migrants had tired out before forcing them into vans.

Sending the migrants back south was an "exercise in cruelty," Lacruz said, saying the migrants have come to Mexico because "they need international protection."

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Mexico's export-driven economy is highly dependent on commerce with the U.S., and the government has become far less hospitable to migrants.

Mexico has offered refugees the possibility of obtaining work and residency permits to stay in southern Mexico, far from the U.S. border. But those asylum permits are slow-coming in an overstretched immigration system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.