A huge migrant caravan making its way from Honduras heading straight for the United States met with sticks and tear gas in Guatemala Sunday not coincidentally days before Joe Biden takes office. Biden’s impending administration is urging travelers to abandon their journey and for anyone considering it to not come.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 migrants, including families with young children, have entered Guatemala since Friday, authorities say, trying to escape poverty and violence in a region hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes in November.
“Guatemala’s message is loud and clear: These types of illegal mass movements (of people) will not be accepted, that’s why we are working together with the neighboring nations to address this as a regional issue,” the Guatemalan president’s office said in emailed comments.
A large section of the caravan clashed early on Sunday with Guatemalan security officials, some 3,000 of whom had mustered by the village of Vado Hondo, about 55 km (34 miles) from the borders of Honduras and El Salvador.
“We want the Guatemalans to let us past,” said Joaquin Ortiz, a Honduran in the caravan. “Because we’re not leaving here. We’re going to carry on. I want to get through because it’s horrible in our country. There’s nothing in Honduras.”
The large contingent of Guatemalan security officers managed to stop the migrants from advancing beyond Vado Hondo, with perhaps as many as half of the people in the caravan dispersing into the nearby hills or heading back the way they came, according to a Reuters witness.
During the chaotic melee, security forces fired off a tear gas canister and used a stun grenade to disperse the crowd, a Reuters photographer said.
Authorities sent buses and trucks for migrants who wanted to voluntarily return home.
“They keep trying to pass, but we’re not allowing them to,” said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s immigration agency.
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It seems the pandemic and President Trump’s tough immigration policies are actually helping Biden’s upcoming administration.
The coronavirus pandemic has battered Honduras’ economy, which last year suffered its worst contraction on record. Guatemalan authorities said that after administering coronavirus tests, 12 men and 9 women tested positive for COVID-19.
Guatemalan security forces reiterated that only united as a region, work should continue to confront illegal migration.
Mexican and Central American authorities have coordinated security and public health measures in a bid to deter mass movement of people across the region. Even if the migrants do get past, Mexico is preparing to stop them at its southern border with hundreds of security forces, arguing it must contain the spread of the virus.
The first migrant caravan of the year comes less than a week before Biden takes office on Wednesday after promising a more humane approach to migration than Trump.
Yet, the united response of Central America and Mexico suggests that Biden may initially benefit from the hard-line policies of outgoing President Trump, who made cracking down on illegal immigration a priority of his administration.
Even so, a Biden transition official, had no hesitation in hitting Trump for the very policies from which they will initially benefit.
“Overcoming the challenges created by the chaotic and cruel policies of the last four years, and those presented by COVID-19, will take time,” said the official.
“In the meantime, the journey to the United States remains extraordinarily dangerous, and those in the region should not believe anyone peddling the lie that our border will be open to everyone next month,” the official added.
The incoming administration will work to address the root causes of migration, expand lawful pathways and rethink asylum processing, the official said.
We’ll see how Biden’s softer policies work out.
Reuters contributed to this report.