With new estimates of more than 7,200 Central American migrants now making their way north through Mexico, President Donald Trump lobbed another series of threats Monday against the region’s governments for not being able to stop the growing caravan.
Trump wrote that he would follow through on threats to cut off funding for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador now that the caravan has cleared Central America and ensconced itself in southern Mexico. The president warned of “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” mixed into the migrant caravan group, which originated in Honduras but has swelled in size as people from other nations have jumped in along the way.
“There isn’t a single terrorist here,” Denis Omar Contreras, one of the caravan organizers, told the Associated Press. He said caravan migrants come from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. “As far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt governments.”
Trump’s remarks come the same day United Nationsl officials estimate the number of migrants in the caravan now numbers as many as 7,200 people and may continue to grow. UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York on Monday afternoon. He added migrants continued to arrive in Mexico and “are likely to remain in the country for an extended period.”
The caravan comprises an estimated 7,233 persons, “many of whom intend to continue the march north,” Haq told reporters.
The UN High Commission on Refugees has deployed 32 staffers in the Mexican towns of Ciudad Hidalgo and Tapachula to help the Mexican government review asylum claims of migrants.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is requesting that the United Nations help process the group to determine whether they have valid asylum claims or should be returned to their home countries. On Twitter, Trump said that wasn’t enough and blamed the caravan on America’s southern neighbors, Democrats and the nation’s “pathetic Immigration Laws.”
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.,” Trump wrote. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.”
The three countries combined received more than $500 million from the U.S. in fiscal year 2017, according to the AP.
Trump also used the advance of the caravan as a political battle cry, as so many GOP candidates have done in recent days.
“Remember the Midterms!” he tweeted.
Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
Trump’s threats have done little to dissuade members of the caravan from trying to reach the U.S. border to make their claims for asylum. Members of the group have become so insistent on staying together, in fact, that they’ve been turning down medical aid and offers of bus rides to ensure that they continue as a group.
Ulises Garcia, a Red Cross official, told the AP that the migrants have suffered a wide range of injuries, including lacerated, infected feet from the miles of walking to ankle and shoulder injuries from falls on the arduous trek. But even they, Garcia said, refused trips to local hospitals and clinics under the theory that there is safety in numbers.
“They fear they’ll be detained and deported” if they leave the group, Garcia said. “They want to continue on their way.”
Most of the caravan members were holding in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula on Monday morning, trying to figure out how the Mexican government would treat them.
Brenda Ochoa, a member of the Center for Human Rights Fray Matias de Cordova, part of a group of local organizations monitoring the caravan, said Monday morning that many of the caravan members already have been deported to their home countries. She said the Mexican government has not provided any public information on the interviews of some caravan members and said government officials are providing only food, water and medical care to those who agree to be detained by immigration officials.
“This humanitarian aid has been conditioned on detention,” Ochoa said, according to video posted on U.S.-based Spanish-language news network Telemundo. “This has been a grave injustice. We call on international organizations to jointly monitor the passage of this (caravan).”
Peña Nieto sent two Boeing 727s filled with federal police to the southern border to monitor the growing number of migrants crossing the border. But the outgoing president said those police officers would be unarmed and said it would be United Nations officials who would take the lead in determining which migrants have valid claims for refugee status and which should return home.
The president’s successor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who assumes office in December, won his election in part by vowing to fight back against Trump and doing what was in the best interest of Mexico, not necessarily the United States. He said last week that Mexico should give work visas to the would-be refugees, which could grant them freedom of movement throughout the country and lead them to the U.S. border.
For now, United Nations’ officials in Mexico said they are bolstering their staff in southern Mexico to help process the rush of migrants. In a series of tweets over the weekend, the Mexican office of foreign relations showed images of a migrant processing site, where they would begin interviewing women, children and the elderly to determine what should be done with them.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Mexican government must confront and turn back the migrant caravan.
“These caravans need to be stopped in Mexico,” Graham told Fox News on Sunday. “It’s an affront to our sovereignty.
“I will be practical with illegal immigrants who have been in America for decades,” he said, referring to the estimated 10 million to 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States. “I’m not going to tolerate any more coming here through caravans, and we need to change our laws to disincentivize this behavior.”