TAPACHULA, CHIAPAS — An estimated 2,000 migrants walked out of this southern Mexico city on Friday, June 24th, saying they are not interested in visas and permits the government has issued in efforts to dissolve other caravans and calling instead for buses to the U.S. border.
The latest group comes just two weeks after an even larger one left Tapachula, coinciding with a summit of hemispheric leaders hosted by the United States. Some 7,000 of those migrants were issued temporary documents and transit visas allowing them to board buses and continue north through Mexico.
The documents usually give migrants a month or more to regularize their status in Mexico or leave the country.
The Mexican government has been using the issuance of such documents since last October to periodically lower pressure from swelling migrant numbers in the south. But instead of traveling to other states to normalize their status in areas less congested than Tapachula, migrants have used the documents to travel to the U.S. border.
But migrants walking Friday said that authorities in other parts of Mexico have not respected those documents and many migrants were returned to the south.
“The march doesn’t want a 30-day permit. The march doesn’t want a humanitarian visa,” said Venezuelan Jonathan Ávila, one of the group’s self-appointed leaders. “We want organizations and the government … to set up a humanitarian corridor.”
He said they want buses to carry them to the U.S. border. “The visa doesn’t work,” he said. “With the visa, they return us, they tear it up.”
Authorities in some northern border states blocked many of the migrants who were issued documents after joining the larger caravan this month. Others traveling in smaller groups managed to cross the border into the U.S.
Last week, Héctor Martínez Castuera, a high-ranking official in Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said in a news conference in the border city of Piedras Negras that the intention of the temporary documents was for the migrants to legalize their status in Mexico — not travel to the U.S. He said the migrants had been told as much, but many decided to head to the U.S. nonetheless.
The caravans have formed in recent years as migrants who sought safety in numbers or who could not pay smugglers banded together. But they represent a fraction of the usual migration flow through Mexico that happens largely out of sight.
The days of walking in tropical heat and rain quickly take a toll on participants in the caravans. Sometimes authorities move to detain exhausted participants, but more recently the government has sought to avoid potential conflict and instead issue temporary documents to dissolve the caravans.