A migrant caravan of about 2,000 Hondurans is now passing though Guatemala in hopes of reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic and threats from the country’s president to “detain all those who entered illegally.”
The group comprises mostly young men, although there are a few small children being pushed in strollers, the Associated Press reported.
"The order has been given to detain all those who entered illegally, and return them to the border of their country," Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said in a broadcast address to the nation on Thursday. “We will not allow any foreigner who has used illegal means to enter the country, to think that they have the right to come and infect us and put us at serious risk.”
Authorities had planned to register the migrants as they crossed earlier Thursday and offer assistance to those willing to turn back, but the group crossed the border at Corinto without registering, pushing past outnumbered Guatemalan police and soldiers who made little attempt to stop them.
However, Giammattei has issued an order that would suspend some constitutional rights in the provinces they were expected to pass through, apparently in order to facilitate detaining them.
Within hours of the border crossing, Guatemalan authorities reported the first migrant death. A person tried to climb aboard a moving flatbed trailer, but fell under its wheels. Authorities did not immediately provide any additional details.
Many of the migrants didn't make it far into Guatemala before having to stop last night. By mid-afternoon the migrants had strung out in small groups for miles along a highway, as some caught rides and others walked under the hot sun.
In one group were four teenagers, all friends and neighbors from San Pedro Sula, from which hundreds of migrants had set out the previous night. The teens decided to leave after seeing others organize on Facebook.
The youngest, 15-year-old Josty Morales, told the Associated Press he wanted to live the “American dream” and was looking for a way to support his 6-month-old son at home.
“There’s no work," he said. "The necessity strangles you."
The odds of a large migrant caravan reaching the U.S. border, already low, have grown increasingly slim over the past year. Under pressure from the United States, Mexico deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents to break up attempted caravans last year.
Mexico’s immigration agency said this week in a statement that it would enforce “safe, orderly and legal” migration and not do anything to promote the formation of a caravan. The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said on Twitter Wednesday that migration to the U.S. was more difficult than ever right now -- and more dangerous because of the coronavirus.
Christian Martínez, a 19-year-old attempting the journey, saw leaving as a way out when few other options were apparent in Honduras.
“If we stay, what is left for us is to become criminals because there’s no way to survive,” he said.
Already halfway to Guatemala City, Martínez and his companions had advanced on foot and with the occasional ride. They said they all carried masks but weren’t worried about the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.