Central American migrants taking part in the ‘Migrant Via Crucis’ caravan towards the United States get into a bus as they start leaving a sport complex where they were camping in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, on Thursday
By Ben Ashford
Defiant Central American migrants from the sprawling human ‘caravan’ snaking north through Mexico taunted President Trump and vowed to continue their push towards the US – declaring: ‘We’ll see you soon Mr President.’
And they told DailyMail.com about the reality of what Trump called ‘the strong immigration laws of Mexico’ revealing that in fact they were being given 20 or even 30-day passes to travel freely and told to report to immigration centers, which dot the U.S. border.
Far from being ‘broken up’ as Trump claimed on Thursday morning, the caravan was being helped on its way to Mexico City with coaches which arrived not long after he tweeted.
And while Mexican officials had encouraged it to disperse, they did so by giving permits to stay in the country without asking a single question about gangs and crimes.
William Castillo, 42, Christian Daniel Hernandez, 8, and Anna Maria Hernandez, 30, of San Salvador, El Salvador, hold their temporary travel documents as they plan to seek political asylum in Mexico City. The family is currently waiting at the Ferrocarrilero Viøctor F. Morales Sports Center in Matiøas Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico
Migrant children, traveling with the Pueblo Sin Fronteras group, play in a large pile of donated clothing at the Ferrocarrilero VÌctor F. Morales Sports Center
Far from being ‘broken up’ as Trump claimed on Thursday morning, the caravan was being helped on its way to Mexico City with coaches which arrived not long after he tweeted. Pictured above, children from the group line up for food
A ticket for the bus taking migrants from Matiøas Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, to Mexico City costs each individual 400 Mexican pesos, which is approximately $22
President Donald Trump gave Mexico a rare pat on the back for taking a wrecking ball to a caravan of 1,200 migrants that was headed to the United States
Organizers, Pueblo Sin Fronteras – People Without Borders – say they will only go as far as Mexico City where the ‘lucha’ movement – Spanish for fight – will disband rather than march to the border.
But many of the 1,000 or so migrants, the majority fleeing gang-plagued Honduras, told DailyMail.com they faced persecution or death if they returned to their homeland, and would press ahead to the U.S. regardless.
‘It’s his country, Senor Trump can do what he wants to. He can put as much military on the border as he likes,’ said Jose Acosta, a 35-year-old farmer escaping violence in the Honduran city of Morazán.
‘But when it comes to it, I will cross the border. I can assure you that I’m going to get into the US, I have faith in God.’
His determination was echoed by Salvadoran national Marvin Geovanni Alvarez, 39, who lived illegally in Atlanta, Georgia, for a year before he was deported in 2013, wrenching him away from his wife Daisy, 36, and sons, Marvin, 20, and 18-year Gerardo.
‘Trump is crazy. He’s racist. The National Guard doesn’t worry me, it’s all bulls***,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘I’ll be reunited with my family. See you soon Mr President.’
Alvarez’s harrowing back story is typical of many of the hundreds of disheveled migrants sheltering in dilapidated locker rooms or laying under trees or tarps inside the blisteringly hot Victor F. Flores Morales Sports Center in the rural town of Matias Romero.
He was targeted by MS-13 gangsters after returning to El Salvador, stabbed three times – once in the head – and warned he would be murdered if he didn’t join up.
‘If they see me again they kill me. The gangs are even here in Mexico. So tomorrow I go to the United States, nobody is going to stop me,’ he vowed.
Migrant , traveling with the Pueblo Sin Fronteras group, play outside at the Ferrocarrilero VÌctor F. Morales Sports Center in MatÌas Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico
Marvin Geovanni Alvarez, 39, of El Salvador, and others relax in a field in MatÌas Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico. Alverez was targeted by MS-13 gangsters after returning to El Salvador, stabbed three times – once in the head – and warned he would be murdered if he didn’t join up
Daisy Galevez, 40, a migrant traveling with the Pueblo Sin Fronteras group, says she left Honduras because here daughter was being violated on the way home from school and her brother was killed by gangs
The migrants had traipsed unimpeded past Mexican police checkpoints and military bases until reaching Matias Romero at the weekend, where organizers herded them towards the largely dilapidated public sports complex that has been their bustling, sunbaked HQ since the weekend
Two trans people of Honduras, Shannel Smith, 26, who was shot 3-times, and Lizz Lobo, 24, who was stabbed in the kneck, are traveling with the Pueblo Sin Fronteras group. They are currently waiting in a field at the Ferrocarrilero VÌctor F. Morales Sports Center in MatÌas Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, for permissions to continue their journey north. Both Smith and Lobo have been violently attacked in Honduras and are seeking asylum in the United States
Travelers have bedded down in crowded corridors, under bleachers or beneath tarps draped over swings, using a putrid-smelling stream for a toilet and surviving on donations of food, water and clothing from local townspeople
Elsy Mejia, 25, who will give birth in roughly 10 days holds her 20 travel document to travel within Mexico. She is currently waiting at Ferrocarrilero Viøctor F Morales Sports Center
The ‘Refugee Caravan 2018’ set out en masse from the southern Mexican border city of Tapachula on March 25, the majority travelling on foot with a few smaller groups hitchhiking, hopping on buses or clinging to the roofs of trains.
Similar caravans have crossed Mexico for the past several years but organizers say political unrest in the wake of a contentious November election in neighboring Honduras has swelled numbers from several hundred to more than a thousand.
Even so, the event passed largely unnoticed until Trump, apparently responding to a news segment on Fox News, denounced the migrants as dangerous and implored Congress to toughen immigration laws before they swamped the U.S.
He also warned the Mexican government he would cut off trade talks if they didn’t halt the caravan, which even if it reached the border, would make up just a small proportion of the roughly 30,000 people caught trying to sneak across every month.
The migrants had traipsed unimpeded past Mexican police checkpoints and military bases until reaching Matias Romero at the weekend, where organizers herded them towards the largely dilapidated public sports complex that has been their bustling, sunbaked HQ since the weekend.
Since then, the bedraggled travelers have bedded down in crowded corridors, under bleachers or beneath tarps draped over swings, using a putrid-smelling stream for a toilet and surviving on donations of food, water and clothing from local townspeople.
With barely any police on hand and just a handful of official organizers, 15 or so migrants have donned neon vests and are charged with keeping order across the bustling camp, which spans several soccer fields, a swimming pool and a baseball field.
Mexican immigration officials have visited each day inviting migrants to apply for transit permits granting them up to 30 days to officially apply for asylum.
The move was hailed by Trump in two different tweets as evidence that he had forced the Mexicans to use their ‘strong’ immigration laws against the caravan.
But migrants told DailyMail.com it was surprisingly easy to secure temporary permits allowing them to stay in the country for a 30-day window.
The documents say they have to make an appointment to the ‘closest’ immigration center to their place of residence but do no list any restrictions on travel or forbid them from heading towards the US.
The maximum window people are being granted to temporarily stay is 30 days.
But many migrants deemed low priority or those with errors or gaps in their ID papers, have been given an alternative document simply giving them 20 days to remain in the territory of Mexico without granting them an interview.
However there is nothing stopping them from applying again when they have the correct papers.
‘I’m giving birth in ten days but they rejected me because of a discrepancy,’ said Honduran migrant Elsy Mejia, 25, who is traveling with her husband Jose Lanza, 21, and four year old daughter, Shesia.
‘But all I need is 20 days. Like a lot of people here I just need enough time to make it to the US border. ‘I hope to God the Americans won’t turn back a heavily pregnant woman.’
An official with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración said roughly 600 permits were rubber stamped at the camp, with slightly more of the 20 day variety issued to migrants.
The official, speaking on condition on anonymity, said many of those requesting paperwork were probably just happy to have a legal window to reach the US border.
Those asking for 30 days and formal interviews were more likely wanting to stay permanently in Mexico.
They checked his passport and asked a handful of questions before issuing the single page documents to him, his wife Anna Maria Hernandez, 30, and their eight-year-old son, Christian Daniel.
‘They asked basic information, where we are from, where we plan to stay. They didn’t ask any questions about gangs or crimes,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘We had no idea what to expect but it was not a tough process to get the documents. Nothing has been easy in this journey but this was surprisingly smooth.
‘This isn’t a pass to let us stay forever, this is to make a meeting. We have 30 days. If we don’t, they deport us.’
There are Instituto Nacional de Migración centers in most major Mexican cities and 21 stationed along the US-Mexican border.
Castillo says he plans to apply for asylum in Mexico rather than attempt to cross to the US but he added: ‘They didn’t say anything about where I could or couldn’t go.’
As Trump tweeted on Thursday morning that the caravan was ‘largely broken up’, part of it was being helped to move north far more rapidly.
A fleet of buses arrived at the sports complex offering migrants wanting to travel to Puebla a 400 Mexican pesos ($22) ride.
There were no police or immigration officials present.
Puebla, just south of Mexico City, is where activists will hold a rally Friday and provide free access to immigration lawyers to help them apply for asylum in either Mexico or the US.
The caravan will then officially disband although Irineo Mujica Arzate, the group’s Mexico coordinator, predicted around 20 percent of the migrants could push on unsupervised.
He told DailyMail.com the caravan was organized each year to highlight the plight of desperate Central American immigrants – not to storm the US border – and laughed off the idea they were a threat to the American people.
Jose Arnoldo Avina Lino, 23, Miguel Angel Martinez Lino, 29, and Juancarlos Cloter Lino, 40, are traveling with the Pueblo Sin Fronteras group, and are currently stopped at the Ferrocarrilero VÌctor F. Morales Sports Center
Migrants line up to take a bus from the Ferrocarrilero Viøctor F. Morales Sports Center in Matiøas Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, to Mexico City or Puebla to attend and immigration summit
‘That is ridiculous. It’s worthy of a movie. Only a fraction of those people will actually make it across the border. It’s highly militarized as it is,’ said Mujica Arzate. ‘
As usual Donald trump plays the politics of fear – the ‘brownies’ are coming to get us. ‘We have 400 women and 300 kids here. They may throw a ball or point a toy gun at someone, that’s about as dangerous as it gets. These people are fleeing the same gangs that Trump is worried about.’
Among those waiting anxiously for the caravan to move is Alfredo Munoz, 22, who is yet to secure temporary paperwork for his wife Carolina, 21, son Edhen, two, and four-year-old daughter, Daily.
He says he’s desperate to reach the US but knows his family will make easy pickings for cartel robbers and kidnappers unless they travel with others for security.
As Munoz talks he pulls back his little girl’s mousy brown hair to reveal a bullet wound at the base of her skull. She has a corresponding exit wound on her left cheek, a chilling reminder of when masked gangsters sprayed bullets at his front door in Colon, Honduras.
‘The gangsters want to own everyone but I said no. They beat me up, they threatened my wife,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘They came at night and fired 25 times into the house. They hit my daughter in the back of the head but somehow she survived.
‘We’ve been travelling now for ten to eleven days, walking four hours a day. It was a hard decision because I knew my family would suffer. Someone robbed our bag of medicine.
‘There’s no way we can stay in Mexico though, the gangs can still get us here. We have to carry on until we reach the US – the alternative is death.’
Fleeing similar violence is Shannel Smith, a trans woman who decided to leave the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, after she was shot three times in the street.
A 26-year-old teacher, she entered Mexico legally but joined the caravan because it meant she could travel north in safety and gain access to lawyers.
Central Americans -taking part in a caravan called ‘Migrant Viacrucis’- wait in line to get a meal in Matias Romero, Oaxaca state
Elsewhere in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, migrants taking part in the caravan marched to protest against Donald Trump on Tuesday
‘Gangs target the trans community to move their drugs because they are particularly vulnerable. If you say no this is what happens,’ she tells DailyMail.com, revealing a 12 inch scar across her stomach and a similarly shocking wound along her left forearm.
‘I was waiting for a taxi when a man walked up to me and fired a pistol three times. I was hit in the arms and the chest. One of the bullets passed through my heart. I was in a coma for three days.
‘I don’t know if it was the police or the gangs – they are as bad as each other. They never caught them, they did nothing. That’s when I knew I had to leave.’
Despite Trump’s repeated warnings about unchecked immigration, data issued by US Customs and Border Protection reveals that the number of migrants caught trying to cross the border fell to a low of 15,700 in April.
The figure was as high under as 42,400 in January 2017 under the Obama administration.
Despite the huge influx of migrants into their town, the people of Matias Romero – population 38,000 – appear to have rallied around them, with locals donating water, rice, beans and old clothes.
‘We are not a charity, we are not a church. We just live here and we want to help,’ said Daniella Tolento, 24, as she served steaming bowls of salchicha and rice from the back of a gray pickup truck.
She and ten members of her family spent hours cooking up the spicy sausage and potato stew to feed the hungry newcomers.
‘Does this look like an army? I don’t think so. They are very welcome here. They have done nothing wrong. It’s stupidity.’
Without similar acts of kindness from complete strangers, 21-year-old Delmi Castro, a slender mother of two from Colon, Honduras, says she would never have had the fortitude to travel 260 miles, or an estimated 86 hours, on foot.
She managed it despite having to carry her two kids, eight-month-old Brian Michael and Jose Manuel, three, as well as a couple of bags of their belongings.
‘My partner is in jail and I’m trying to get to my sister in the United States. It’s been extremely hard, I’m alone, my feet ache, my kids have fevers. But in the cities we passed through the people had big hearts and they gave us food,’ she said.
‘We are not happy, we are suffering so much. But I’ll do anything to give my children, God permitting, a better life.’