Some members of the caravan of Central American migrants that has drawn the ire of President Trump began leaving Mexico City early Friday, splitting from the main group and heading for their ultimate destination — the U.S.-Mexico border — still hundreds of miles away.
But the majority of the 5,500 caravan participants remained in the Mexican capital and were planning to leave on Saturday.
Some said they intended to travel to Tijuana, more than 1,700 miles to the northwest, but it was not clear whether all planned to travel to the city across the border from San Diego.
“I’m leaving tomorrow because I don’t want to stay here any longer, I want to go to the north,” Francisco Ramos, 21, a citizen of Honduras, said Friday at the sprawling sports complex in the capital that has been housing the migrants. “Here we are just wasting our time and spending the little money that we have.”
Part of the attraction of Tijuana, which appears to be a favored destination, is its proximity to California, where many caravan travelers have relatives or friends.
“People tell us that California is the best place, because they treat migrants well there,” said Carla Solis, 28, who is traveling with a pair of younger brothers.
The caravan’s next planned stop after leaving the Mexican capital is the city of Queretaro, some 135 miles to the northwest, where officials were readying shelter space for the migrants’ anticipated arrival.
Thousands of migrants, mostly from Honduras, have spent days at the sports facility next to Mexico City’s airport, where city officials and various aid groups have been providing food, medical treatment, legal advice and other services, including entertainment from clowns and wrestlers. The stop was a chance for many to rest and recuperate after weeks on the road from Central America.
By Thursday, officials said some 5,500 migrants were encamped at the sports center, sleeping in tents, in the grandstands and on fields. Most are young men, but women and children are also in the group.
Many retain hopes that free bus service would be provided to transport them north.
Trump has deployed thousands of troops along the U.S.-Mexico border and vowed that the migrants would not be allowed into the United States. The president used the caravan as a campaign issue in the days leading up to Tuesday’s midterm election.
And Thursday, the Trump administration announced it was planning to tighten procedures for foreigners seeking political asylum in the United States.
Many if not most of the members of the caravan are expected to request asylum on the grounds they fear returning to their homelands because of pervasive violence. The Central American nations of Honduras and El Salvador have long had some of the world’s highest homicide rates.
In recent days, lawyers and other experts have been providing guidance on U.S. asylum laws to caravan members at the stadium in Mexico City. They were advised repeatedly that poverty and generalized fear of crime were not grounds for asylum under U.S. law, which provides the possibility of refuge for some foreign nationals fleeing persecution.
The caravan departed from the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Oct. 13, and advanced into Guatemala, gathering new members along the way. Thousands of caravan members pushed into Mexico the following weekend, and began heading north, walking and riding in cars, taxis, trucks and buses before trickling into Mexico City last weekend.
While some caravan members have returned home to Central America, and others applied for refugee status in Mexico, most have stuck with the group as it headed north.
Two other caravans, with some 3,000 people combined, are following the path of the initial caravan through southern Mexico and are expected to reach Mexico City in the coming days.
Special correspondents Liliana Nieto del Rio and Cecilia Sanchez contributed to this report.