U.S.-bound migrants find less support

Sonia Perez D.
Associated Press

Mapastepec, Mexico — Madison Mendoza, her feet aching and her face burned by the sun, wept as she said she had nothing to feed her 2-year-old son who she’d brought with her on the long trek toward the United States.

Mendoza, 22, said an aunt in Honduras had convinced her to join the migrant caravan, which she did two weeks ago in the capital of Tegucigalpa. The aunt said she’d have no problems, that people along the route in Mexico would help as they did for a large caravan that moved through the area in October.

But this time, the help did not come. The outpouring of aid that once greeted Central American migrants as they trekked in caravans through southern Mexico has been drying up. Hungrier, advancing slowly or not at all, and hounded by unhelpful local officials, frustration is growing among the 5,000-8,000 migrants in the southern state of Chiapas.

“What causes me pain is that the baby asks me for food and there are days when I can’t provide it,” said Mendoza, who fled Honduras with almost no money because she feared for her life after receiving threats from the father of her son.

Geovani Villanueva, left, and other migrants have waited weeks for a permit to continue north from southern Mexico.

Members of the caravan in October received food and shelter from town governments, churches and passers-by. Drivers of trucks stopped to give them a lift. Little of that is happening this time. And local officials who once gave them temporary permits to work in Mexico, now seem to snare them in red tape. Truckers and drivers have been told they will be fined if caught transporting migrants without proper documentation.

Mendoza bathed her son, José, under a stream of water in Escuintla, a Mexican town 95 miles north of the Guatemalan border.

“I don’t even have a peso,” she said, teary-eyed. Many migrants are collecting mangos and fruits from trees along the route and sharing food among themselves.

Mendoza and José arrived in Mapastepec on Saturday. They joined thousands of stranded migrants waiting to see if local authorities provide them with a temporary permit or visa to work in Mexico or whether they would continue their trip to the U.S. border.

Heyman Vázquez, a parish priest in Huixtla, a community along the caravan’s route, said local support for the Central American migrants has dried up because of an anti-migrant discourse that blames them for crime and insecurity.

The frustration felt by the migrants is affecting Geovani Villanueva, who has spent 25 days along with several hundred other migrants at a sports complex in Mapastepec waiting for a permit that would let him legally and safely travel north with his wife, two small children and four other relatives.

“I think it’s a strategy by the government to wear us out,” said Villanueva, 51.

The latest caravan is heading north during Holy Week in Latin America, when many activists organize processions to dramatize the hardships and needs of migrants. Caravans became a popular way of making the trek because the migrants find safety in numbers and save money by not hiring smugglers.

Mexico is under pressure from the Trump administration to thwart them from reaching the U.S. border. In April, President Donald Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border before changing course and threatening tariffs on automobiles produced in Mexico if that country does not stop the flow of Central American migrants.

U.S. border facilities have been overwhelmed by the number of migrant families. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced recent that 53,000 parents and children were apprehended at the border in March.

Nancy Valladares, who is from the city of Progreso in Honduras, is part of the caravan that reached Mapastepec. She is traveling with her husband and two daughters in baby carriages.

She said the family hoped to reach the U.S. and find help for her 2-year-old daughter Belen, who she says was born with microcephaly due to a Zika infection, and cannot walk or talk.

Valladares complained that they weren’t able to find anyone to give them a ride, and when her family and scores of other migrants climbed on to a truck-trailer in Escuintla, federal police forced them to get down and walk.

Tired and angry, many migrants no longer want to talk to reporters.

Villanueva, who owned several small stores back in Honduras, said he left his homeland because gangs had threatened to kill him after he refused to pay extortion.

He said he left to save his life and one thing is clear to him: there is no turning back.