Honduran migrants who have agreed to be returned home, sit on a bus provided by the Guatemalan government in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Hundreds of Central American migrants who entered southern Mexico in recent days have either been pushed back into Guatemala by Mexican troops, shipped to detention centers or returned to Honduras, officials said Tuesday. An unknown number slipped past Mexican authorities and continued north. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Migrant caravan shrinks at Guatemala-Mexico border

January 22, 2020 - 12:21 pm

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (AP) — The number of migrants stuck at the Guatemala-Mexico border continued to dwindle Wednesday as detentions and resignation ate away at what remained of the latest caravan.

Overnight the first buses of migrants left Tecun Uman, Guatemala to repatriate migrants to their countries. On Tuesday, Mexico began flying and busing hundreds of migrants who had crossed to that country back to Honduras.

At a temporary shelter erected across from the local migrant shelter, there was a change in the attitude of those who remained after the buses departed. More began talking about their own plans for going back.

On Wednesday morning, the number of people there was perhaps half of what it was at its peak Sunday night.

Several hundred migrants rested on blankets and cots under tarps and lined up for breakfast.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recognized the success of his government's strategy Wednesday, noting that many of the migrants had begun to voluntarily return to their countries.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf commended Mexico's actions in a statement Wednesday.

“The efforts by the Mexican National Guard and other officials have thus far been effective at maintaining the integrity of their border, despite outbreaks of violence and lawlessness by people who are attempting to illegally enter Mexico on their way to the United States,” Wolf said. He said DHS was monitoring the caravan closely and had dozens of personnel throughout Central America assisting.

The AP saw U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents working with Guatemalan police at highway checkpoints last week as caravan members passed. The U.S. said they were there to help train and support local agents.

“They absolutely must be satisfied with (Mexico's) actions because in reality it's their (the United States') plan,” said Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University investigating how caravans form. “They're congratulating themselves, because in reality it wasn't López Obrador's plan.”

She said it is an complicated issue for Mexico, but the National Guard had no business being placed at the border to handle immigration because they weren't trained for it. The government “is sending a group that doesn't know how to and can't protect human rights because they're trained to do other kinds of things,” she said.

Mexico announced last June that it was deploying the newly formed National Guard to assist in immigration enforcement to avoid tariffs that Trump threatened on Mexican imports.

On Tuesday night 118 Hondurans voluntarily returned to their country from Tecun Uman on three buses organized by the International Organization for Migration and the Guatemalan government. More were expected Wednesday.

Walter Basilio, a 40-year-old from Cortes, Honduras was one of those who decided to board the bus.

“It's really (difficult) to cross to the other side now," he said. “Better to go home.” He said the clash with Mexican National Guardsmen on Monday on the opposite riverbank changed his mind. He said he wasn't interested in getting beaten up.

But there were also signs that members of the caravan still committed to traveling north were melting back into the normal migratory flow and moving into Mexico in small groups that were more difficult to detect. While the caravans have garnered attention, they represent just a fraction of the normal migratory traffic moving from Central America up through Mexico.

Mexico's National Immigration Institute said in a statement Wednesday that on the previous day its inspection points in the southern border states of Chiapas and Tabasco had detained more than 2,000 Central American migrants. It did not say how many may have been part of the caravan.

Three young migrants who tried to cross the Suchiate river Wednesday morning and evade authorities in the brush were quickly corralled and forced back across to Guatemala.

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Verza reported from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. AP writers Peter Orsi in Tecun Uman and Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

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