Guatemala detains hundreds of migrants at border as U.S.-bound caravan grows


By Gustavo Palencia, Sofia Menchu, TEGUCIGALPA, (Reuters):- The Guatemalan military has detained hundreds of migrants at its border as thousands of Hondurans, including many families with young children, continued to walk north on Friday as part of a caravan hoping to reach the United States.

The Guatemalan military detained 600 migrants at the border crossing point in Corinto and transferred them to immigration authorities on Friday, according to military spokesman Ruben Tellez. Separately, Guatemalan authorities returned 102 Honduran migrants back to Honduras on Thursday, after the first groups in the caravan set off from San Pedro Sula.

The Red Cross estimates that up to 4,000 people could join the caravan, as Honduras reels from violence and an economy shattered by hurricanes and coronavirus lockdowns.

“We’re suffering from hunger,” Oscar Garcia told Reuters as he made his way toward the Guatemala border. The banana plantation worker said his home was destroyed in November’s hurricanes, and that he’s fleeing north hoping to earn enough to send money back to support his mother and his young daughter.

“It’s impossible to live in Honduras, there’s no work, there’s nothing,” he added.

The first migrant caravan of the year comes less than a week before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

While Biden has promised a more humane approach to migration, in a departure from outgoing President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico are coordinating their own security and public health measures aimed at curtailing irregular migration across the region.

That will likely be a relief for Biden, whose aides have privately expressed concerns about the prospect of growing numbers of migrants seeking to enter the United States in the early days of his administration.

On Thursday, Guatemala cited the pandemic in order to declare emergency powers in seven border provinces migrants frequently transit through en route to Mexico. The measures limit public demonstrations and allow authorities to disperse any public meeting, group or demonstration by force.

On Friday, Mexico also deployed soldiers and riot police to its border with Guatemala.

Central America is reeling from a growing hunger crisis in the devastating fallout of the hurricanes, as well as violence and the lockdown measures that disrupted the job market.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Honduras, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala, Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey and Jose Torres in Tapachula; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Steve Orlofsky)