ARRIAGA, Mexico – The caravan’s arrival in the U.S. continues to advance as the migrants moved Friday with amazing speed, doing 62 miles before noon.
“We are looking for a better place to live,” said Axel Velasquez, who was taking shelter from the midday sun under an empty train car in Arriaga.
That compares to just 20 miles on Saturday, dawn to dusk.
Their advance is aided not just by the generosity of everyday Mexicans offering rides to hitchhikers. The Mexican Federal Police, which stopped trucks and buses on the Pan American Highway Friday morning, then filled the vehicles with dozens of waiting migrants needing a lift.
The caravan made camp Friday in the town of Arriaga, roughly 990 miles south of McAllen, Texas, and 2,390 miles south of the border near San Diego. The city brought in water trucks for the migrants to bathe and provided food and water.
Exactly how many remain in the caravan is unknown. The mayor of nearby Huixla on Wednesday estimated 6,000. Officially, Mexico says there are fewer than 4,000.
The number reduced after some 1,700 applied for asylum in Mexico, four busloads returned to Honduras and others decided to go their own way or stay in Mexico and work.
The group is expected to further splinter in the next few days as some elect to hop on the fast-moving and dangerous cargo train known as La Bestia, or “The Beast.”
The Beast is not one train, but actually a network of trains that stretch from Guatemala to the U.S. border. Generations of Central Americans have used the train to migrate to the U.S.
Also known as the “Train of Death” or “Train of the Unknowns,” the train is dangerous. It is supposed to stop here to add rail cars but Mexico may choose to disrupt its schedule to thwart the caravan. The train typically slows down through the town square at Arriaga, just about 30 yards from where the caravan has made camp.
Some locals say the freight train hasn't stopped here in weeks, although the majority of migrants seem to think it does.
We spoke to a dozen young men on Friday. Some of the groups, formed by friends or family members, said they were taking the train. Others said they would vote on it on Friday. Still, others were weighing their options, fearing the kidnapping, extortion and “mara,” or gangs known to steal money.
Migrants were mostly unaware Friday of President Donald Trump’s warning he could amend asylum laws to deter the caravan.
When told of Trump’s words, Oscar Orellana said he will still make his way to the U.S. border.
“We’ve heard what he’s been saying, but we’re going to ask him for an opportunity to work,” he said.
Unlike Mexican government officials who are visible and prominent in the plazas where the migrants sleep and eat, no one from the U.S. Embassy or State Department is on a bullhorn or handing out flyers alerting migrants to the changes.
U.S. officials say they are prepared for the influx of migrants, at the port of entries and along the border. That isn’t necessarily true, officials say. Both the Yuma and McAllen Border Patrol Sectors are already overwhelmed with families and unaccompanied minors, forcing their early release.
The loose chains of religious shelters, stretching from Matamaros to Tijuana, are overcrowded and underfunded. Officials say the wait for an asylum interview at the San Ysidro Port of Entry across from Tijuana is currently three months. That is before the expected arrival of the caravan.
While the caravan grabs headlines, the exodus from Central America is not new. In the last six years, Mexico and the United States have deported immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras – and El Salvador in numbers that approximate a city the size of Philadelphia.
The caravan currently seems composed 60 to 65 percent men, 35 to 40 percent women and children.
"What you see right here are families. You don’t see no criminals," said Julio Garcia, who grew up in Los Angeles and was a part of the caravan. "You don’t see no Muslims like the president has said that there is Muslims, terrorists. That is not true. There’s no Muslims here. There’s no terrorists here. Nothing but family."