CHIQUIMULA, GUATEMALA - More than 2,000 Honduran migrants traveling en masse through Guatemala resumed their journey toward the United States on Wednesday as U.S. President Donald Trump sought to turn the caravan into a political issue three weeks before midterm elections.
A day after warning Central American governments they risked losing U.S. aid if they didn't do something and saying that anyone entering the country illegally would be arrested and deported, Trump turned his sights on Democrats and urged Republican allies to campaign on border security.
"Hard to believe that with thousands of people from South of the Border, walking unimpeded toward our country in the form of large Caravans, that the Democrats won't approve legislation that will allow laws for the protection of our country. Great Midterm issue for Republicans!'' Trump said in a Wednesday morning tweet.
"Republicans must make the horrendous, weak and outdated immigration laws, and the Border, a part of the Midterms!'' he continued.
In Guatemala, the migrants rose early and many left without eating breakfast, bound for Zacapa, the next city on their route. Overcast skies and a light drizzle took the edge off the sweltering heat and humidity, making the trek more bearable.
'It is God who decides'
Migrant Luis Navarreto, 32, said he had read about Trump's threats regarding aid to his country but was undeterred.
"We are going to continue,'' Navarreto said. "It is God who decides here. We have no other option but to move ahead.''
The migrants are fleeing widespread poverty and gang violence in one of the world's most murderous countries, and many blamed Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez for what they called unlivable conditions back home.
"We are here because of Juan Orlando,'' said migrant Nelson Zavala, 36, adding that the last three days had essentially been sleepless ones.
The previous day, the migrants advanced about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Honduras-Guatemala border to arrive at the city of Chiquimula.
That's a tiny portion of the almost 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometers) they'd have to travel to reach the closest U.S. border.
Some were able to hitch rides, and hundreds advanced farther and faster than the main group to reach the Guatemalan capital, according to the Casa del Migrante shelter there.
Late Tuesday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the migrants traveling in the caravan.
The caravan has snowballed since about 160 migrants departed Friday from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, with many people joining spontaneously while carrying just a few belongings. Estimates of their numbers ranged up to 3,000.
Three weeks before the U.S. elections, the caravan was bound to draw Trump's ire. But he did not follow through on a similar threat to cut aid to Honduras in April over an earlier caravan, which eventually petered out in Mexico.
'Political groups' blamed
On Tuesday, Honduras' president accused unnamed "political groups'' of organizing the caravan based on lies in order to cause problems in Honduras.
"There are sectors that want to destabilize the country, but we will be decisive and we will not allow it,'' Hernandez told reporters.
Earlier, the Foreign Ministry alleged that people had been lured to join the migration with "false promises'' of a transit visa through Mexico and the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
In a joint statement Wednesday, Mexico's Foreign Relations and Interior departments said that anyone in the caravan with travel documents and a proper visa would be allowed to enter, and that anyone who wanted to apply for refugee status could do so.
But the statement said all cases must be processed individually, suggesting that authorities have no intention of letting the migrants simply cross the border en masse without going through standard immigration procedures.
The statement warned that anyone who entered Mexico in an "irregular manner'' faced detention and deportation.