A caravan of Central American immigrants that has been the target of President Trump's ire has halted its northward march through Mexico in order to negotiate with immigration authorities over key questions: Can some stay in Mexico, and can others continue their trek to the United States?
At a sports stadium in a small city in Oaxaca state, hundreds of immigrants, mostly from Honduras, were in the process of applying for transit or humanitarian visas on Tuesday. Those granted transit visas will be allowed to stay in Mexico for up to 30 days, giving them time to reach the U.S. border or head back home. Those issued humanitarian visas will be allowed to stay and work legally in Mexico.
Mexican officials approached caravan organizers in the town of Matias Romero on Monday after President Trump wrote a series of tweets warning about "caravans" of migrants heading to the U.S.
"Caravans are heading here," the president wrote. "Must pass tough laws and build the WALL."
In other tweets, Trump accused Mexican authorities of not doing more to stop immigrants traveling to the U.S. border and threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico did not act.
On Tuesday, Trump continued to rail against immigration, saying he intends to deploy U.S. troops along the southern border until his long-promised wall can be built. "Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with our military," Trump said.
Mexican authorities bristled at Trump's threats about NAFTA, pointing out that Mexico already deports tens of thousands of Central Americans annually. A statement issued by the Interior Ministry suggested it is not Mexico's duty to stop people from going to the U.S. to apply for asylum.
"It is not this government's responsibility to make immigration decisions for the United States or any other country, so it will be up to the appropriate authorities of the United States to decide whether to authorize the entry of the caravan participants to U.S. territory," the statement said.
It said 400 members of the caravan have been deported, but it said others in the group may be eligible for refugee status or other relief. Mexico, it said, considers the caravan "a public demonstration that seeks to call attention to the migration phenomenon and the importance of respecting the rights of Central Americans."
Mexico's interior secretary, Alfonso Navarrete Prida, suggested Mexico had not been swayed by Trump's tweets. "We will act with complete sovereignty in enforcing our laws … with no pressure whatsoever from any country whatsoever," he said.
The caravan, consisting of more than 1,000 immigrants, crossed into Mexico from Guatemala last week. According to media reports, immigration authorities at the border let them pass.
Organized by a group called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People without Borders, the "Stations of the Cross" caravan was designed to bring awareness to the dire poverty and violence that prompt many to flee Central America, and the dangerous plight of immigrants attempting to reach the U.S. border. In 2010, 72 kidnapped immigrants were massacred in northern Mexico. Rapes, assaults and robberies of immigrants are common. Similar caravans have been organized during the Easter season for about a decade and have been generally confined to southern Mexico.
This year, most of the immigrants are from Honduras, which has been engulfed in political turmoil since last year's highly contested reelection of U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Alex Mensing, one of the caravan organizers, said that Trump, instead of vilifying the immigrants, should recognize the role the U.S. has played in creating instability in Honduras.
"These people are fleeing violence, and they're fleeing situations created by the United States," Mensing said. "This is not a horde of illegal immigrants. This is a refugee crisis."
Mensing said a group of a couple of hundred men broke off from the caravan Sunday, hopping a freight train north probably with hopes of trying to enter the U.S. But the rest of the group seemed unlikely to move again until Wednesday or Thursday, when they are expected to take buses to a migrant rights symposium in central Puebla state, where they would have the chance to meet with volunteer immigration lawyers from the U.S.
3:45 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from President Trump and statistics on crimes committed against immigrants in Mexico.
12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting throughout and with comments from Alfonso Navarette Prida.