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Mexico begins flying, busing migrants back to Honduras

María Verza and Sonia Pérez D.
Associated Press

Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico – Hundreds of Central American migrants who waded across a river into Mexico in hopes of eventually reaching the U.S. were sent back to their homeland or retreated across the border Tuesday after Mexican troops blocked their way.

Fewer than 100 remained in the no-man’s-land along the river between Guatemala and Mexico.

Central American migrants cross the Suchiate River from Mexico to Guatemala, near Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

The caravan of thousands had set out from Honduras last week in hopes Mexico would grant them passage, posing a fresh test for President Donald Trump’s effort to reduce the flow of migrants arriving at the U.S. border by pressuring other governments to stop them.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said 2,400 of the migrants entered Mexico legally over the weekend. About 1,000 of them requested Mexico’s help in returning to their countries. The rest were being held in immigration centers while they start legal processes that would allow them to seek refuge in Mexico or obtain temporary work permits that would confine them to southern Mexico.

An additional 1,000 had tried to enter illegally Monday, he said, and hundreds of them were apparently detained by Mexican National Guardsmen and immigration agents. Immigration officials estimated Monday night that 500 had evaded capture by the security forces.

Ebrard said Mexico already has begun deporting some back to Honduras, putting 110 on a flight to San Pedro Sula and sending 144 back by bus.

Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Nelly Jerez said Mexico expected to deport 500 Hondurans a day on buses from Wednesday through Friday.

Most of the hundreds stranded in the no-man’s land on the Mexican side of the river returned to Guatemala overnight in search of water, food and a place to sleep. Mexican authorities distributed no water or food to those who entered illegally, in what appeared to be an attempt by the government to wear out the migrants.

Alejandro Rendón, head of Mexico’s federal social welfare department, said his colleagues were distributing water to those who turned themselves in or who were caught by immigration agents, but were not doing the same along the river because it was not safe for workers to do so.

“It isn’t prudent to come here because we can’t put the safety of the colleagues at risk,” he said.