The leading migrant caravan pushing its way to the U.S. border appears to be at a crossroads Wednesday, as members weigh offers to stay in Mexico or continue their journey northward -- which in recent days has included perilous rides on the sides of trucks barreling down highways.
The 4,500 Central American migrants in Mexico City have been hunkering down since Monday at the Jesus Martinez stadium, a temporary respite and relatively safe environ where volunteers, city employees and other officials have been dishing out aid in the form of clothing, food donations and legal advice. But soon they'll be back on the road.
“Any kind of accident can happen to you,” Nora, a 35-year-old mother who fled Honduras with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, told the Washington Post earlier this week. She described riding 116 miles to the city of Puebla in a double-decker truck meant for hauling vehicles. “Either I take the risk, or I stay poor.”
Puebla was one of many stops for the caravan on the way to Mexico City, and those onboard the same double-decker truck as Nora reported being jolted violently every time the vehicle hit a bump in the road.
Other migrants, the Post says, have been left gasping for air inside sweltering box trucks. One 25-year-old man died in late October after falling off a truck in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
“It’s bad. I’m really worried,” Kenia Hernandez, a 26-year-old single mother from Honduras, told the Washington Post. “On this road, you do what you have to do.”
Mexico has been denying requests by the migrants to send organized buses to ferry the caravan to the U.S. border. Instead, Mexico has offered work visas or the granting of status as a refugee or asylum seeker.
The government says 2,697 temporary visas so far had been issued to individuals and families to cover them while they waited for the 45-day application process for a more permanent status.
Rina Valenzuela, who is from El Salvador, was one of the migrants in Mexico City listening attentively Tuesday to aid workers from the nonprofit Institute for Women in Migration as they explained the difficulties of applying for and securing asylum in the U.S. The Associated Press reported she ended up deciding she'd be better off applying for refugee status in Mexico.
"Why go fight there, with as much effort and as much suffering as we have gone through, just for them to turn me back? Well, no," Valenzuela said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of city employees and even more volunteers were on hand Tuesday to sort donations and direct migrants toward food, water, diapers and other basics. Migrants searched through piles of donated clothes, grabbed boxes of milk for children and lined up to make quick calls home at a stand set up by the Red Cross.
Employees from the capital's human rights commission also registered new arrivals with biographical data— such as age and country of origin— and placed yellow bracelets on wrists to keep count.
The atmosphere at the stadium in Mexico City was more institutional and organized than what migrants encountered on the road, where townspeople pushed bags of drinking water, tacos and fruit into their hands as they passed through tiny hamlets in southern Mexico.
But there were signs that the stadium was already nearing its 6,000-person capacity.
Maria Yesenia Perez, 41, told the AP that there was no space in the stadium when she and her 8-year-old daughter arrived during the night, so the two Hondurans slept on the grass outside. Migrants pitched tents in the parking lot and constructed makeshift shelters from plywood covered with blankets and tarps. Forty portable toilets were scattered across the grass.
Four big tents have been set up for women and children to sleep under with thin mattresses and blankets, while men were relegated Monday night to the concrete bleachers.
Several smaller groups are currently trailing the leading caravan hundreds of miles to the south.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.