Migrant caravan charges the Mexican border

Migrants making their way towards the United States as part of a caravan of 3,000 people charged at the border between Guatemala and Mexico on Friday, cutting the wires and confronting rows of border police.

Mexico had warned the migrants that they would need a visa to enter the country and sent riot police to the Guatemala-Mexico border city of Tapachula as the caravan moved north.

Some of the migrants ignored the warnings and charged across, leaving them facing arrest. Manelich Castilla, spokesman for Mexico’s federal police, said that buses were arriving at the border to allow women, children and the elderly to get off the border bridge and be processed.

But at the bridge migrants, who have formed orderly lines, were last night refusing to board the buses fearing that they will simply be deported.

Some violently shook fences at the border. A handful jumped into the Suchiate river below to swim for rafts. Others turned back toward Guatemala.

Donald Trump, the US president, praised Mexico’s efforts.

"It’s being stopped as of this moment by Mexico. So, we appreciate very much what Mexico is doing," he said, speaking in Arizona ahead of a rally last night. "As of this moment, I thank Mexico. I hope they continue.” 

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, was in Mexico City to meet his Mexican counterpart and described the situation as approaching “a moment of crisis”. The caravan has been an obsession of Mr Trump’s since it set out from Honduras a week ago.

On Thursday night, at a Make America Great Again rally in Montana, Mr Trump said that the caravan was now the defining issue of next month’s midterm elections. Earlier in the day his chief of staff, John Kelly, and national security advisor, John Bolton, had a furious shouting match about the caravan – a disagreement so intense some speculated Mr Kelly would resign.

The White House issued a statement saying the startling row was a sign that they were all “passionate about solving the issue of illegal immigration”.

The department of homeland security is currently compiling the year-end figures, but it is expected that the numbers of immigrant families arriving at the border will likely break records on a monthly basis.

To put that in context, in the early 2000s the authorities were arresting 1.5 million undocumented immigrants a year, while in 2018 so far there have been under 400,000 people detained.

However, the Trump administration remains upset and frustrated.

Mexican authorities, in a bid to soothe Mr Trump’s fury and to deter the migrants, without appearing to violate international law, have asked the United Nations to set up a migrant processing centre near its southern border. They have also sent two Boeing 727s full of police reinforcement and riot gear.

The migrant caravan reached the Guatemala-Mexico border on Thursday, overwhelming the border town of Tecun Uman’s shelters and forcing hundreds to sleep in the town’s central plaza, in the pouring rain.

Their week-long procession through Honduras and Guatemala had been supported by locals, who stood by the side of the road in solidarity offering food, water, money, blankets and even a pram for a baby.

"I decided to come because of the unemployment situation," said Wendy Lorena Benitez Ramirez, 43. She said she had volunteered to make the journey on behalf of her family, and send money home from working in the US.

"My daughter has a little girl and can’t find a job, and my son has a little boy who needs oxygen – up to three tanks a week. He can’t earn enough money to support his family."

But some in Tecun Uman were concerned that the 3,000 migrants could be prevented from entering Mexico, and forced to remain sleeping rough in their town.

Hugo Arnoldo Benitez, 29, a Guatemalan volunteer, pointed to the Honduran men sleeping on the street. He told The Telegraph: “This is what Tecun Uman was like 10 years ago. People sleeping in the streets, begging, piles of trash everywhere. It breaks my heart to see this, but there is nothing more we can do. I think this will wind up like the Colombian border, with all the Venezuelans crossing over. Many people here are afraid of that.”

Two women cooking for the Hondurans in the shelter were whispering: “But when are they leaving?”

Central Americans have freedom of movement throughout their region, but must show a visa before crossing into Mexico. A previous caravan, in April, was assisted by Mexico granting humanitarian transit visas for those seeking to apply for asylum: now, under intense pressure from Washington, Mexico looks set to enforce the visa requirement and block their passage.

Smugglers in the town, meanwhile, said that they had been warned not to help the caravan, or else the police would put a stop to their own lucrative cross-border contraband trade.