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TAPACHULA, Mexico — It was only last week that a caravan with thousands of
Central American migrants hunkered down for the night here in Tapachula, in
southern Mexico.

Days later, a new group numbering in the hundreds arrived, fanning out across the
central plaza and surrounding sidewalks.

Now, two more caravans are on their way, as well.

The fact that the first of these caravans was able to move from Honduras into
Guatemala and then into Mexico is inspiring other migrants to travel in large
groups, reversing the long-established logic of Central American migration to the
United States: Rather than trying to travel undetected, some migrants are trading
invisibility for safety in numbers.

“Everybody wants to form another caravan,” Tony David Gálvez, 22, a Honduran
farmworker, said Tuesday as he rested in Tapachula’s central plaza after walking
into the city with hundreds of other migrants, part of the second caravan to arrive
here this month.


But largely unbeknownst to the migrants, this conspicuous new approach has been
fueling heated anti-immigration sentiment in the United States and putting
potential new obstacles in their path.
As midterm elections near, President Trump is trying to energize Republican
voters by focusing on immigration, a topic that roused his base during his 2016

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Mr. Trump has described the first caravan, which left Honduras on Oct. 12, as an
invading horde. He is sending troops to the border with Mexico and considered
taking executive action to close that border to migrants, including those seeking

Migrants traveling in these caravans are aware that Mr. Trump is opposed to their
entry to the United States, and have heard about the military deployment to the
border. But many say they are driven by a deep faith that once they arrive at the
border, Mr. Trump will be touched, and open the gates to them.

Migrant advocates like Miroslava Cerpas, from the Center for Human Rights
Research and Promotion in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, warn that they
might be separated, deported or hurt along the way.


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But many of the migrants are deeply religious, and “believe there will be a miracle,
that some Moses will appear” to guide them, Ms. Cerpas said. “For these people,
this is the caravan of hope,” she said.


Mexican marines were posted on the Suchiate River, on the border with
Guatemala, some in skiffs.CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

Mr. Trump has pressed Central American and Mexican governments to stop the
migrants from continuing north, creating a political and public relations dilemma
in the region. The embattled presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, both leading
governments that face corruption allegations, tried to appease him and ordered
security forces to halt the groups — to little avail. The migrants just hiked past the
officers sent to stop them.

The Mexican government’s response has been contradictory. Officials appear to be

sensitive to the contrast they must draw with the Trump administration’s
crackdown on migrants, including Mexican immigrants. At the same time, they are
intent on keeping Mexico’s relationship with the United States on solid ground.

The Mexican government invited migrants to apply for asylum, and almost 2,200
migrants have accepted the offer, the government said Wednesday.
“Undocumented migration is not a criminal act in Mexico,” Interior Minister
Alfonso Navarrete Prida said earlier this week. “This is a vulnerable population.”

Mr. Navarrete warned that migrants should respect the law and present their
documents to seek refuge. But it was clear that Mexico lacks the ability to control
the flow of Central Americans.


Several migrants who arrived in Tapachula on Tuesday in the new caravan said
they had been inspired by the success of the first group, which made its way
through Guatemala and into Mexico with relative ease.

The images of this mass migration show the power of traveling together. Young
women feel safe enough to push their children in donated strollers along the
highway and families cram onto the flatbeds of pickup trucks offering rides. At
rushing rivers, people form human chains to wade across.

Together, the trip is also cheaper, said the Rev. Mauro Verzeletti, a Catholic priest
who directs Casa del Migrante, a shelter in Guatemala City. By traveling in groups,
he said, the migrants can shake off the “structure of coyotes, of drug traffickers or
organized crime” that has controlled the trail for years, charging thousands of
The groups have also been met with an outpouring of support — food, clothing,
shelter, medical care — from governments and ordinary citizens along the way.

After Mr. Trump took office, the number of illegal crossings at the southwest
border of the United States declined to a low of more than 40 years. But the
numbers began climbing again this year. In September, a record number of people
traveling in families were apprehended by the Border Patrol.

But there is no evidence the caravans are encouraging more people to leave El
Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the United States, migrants’ advocates said.
Indeed, many of the people in the two caravans now moving through southern
Mexico say they most likely would have migrated whether or not the caravans had
taken shape.


Hondurans bathing in central Tapachula.CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

What the large group does do is give “visibility to a phenomenon that had been
going on for a long time and that nobody wanted to see,” said César Ríos, director
of the Salvadoran Migrant Institute in San Salvador, which works with deportees.


When the first of the current wave of caravans left San Pedro Sula in Honduras on
Oct. 12, it was only a few hundred strong. As television news spread the word,
thousands more migrants joined the procession as it crossed the border into
Guatemala and headed toward Mexico.

The migrants clashed briefly with Guatemalan and Mexican security forces on Oct.
19 at the Suchiate River, which demarcates a stretch of the border between the
countries. But most of its members crossed into Mexico as efforts to halt the
caravan’s advance gave way before its size, estimated then at about 7,000.

The group, mostly from Central America, fractured after crossing into Mexico.
Some pushed ahead at a faster pace, while others fell behind to convalesce, apply
for asylum in Mexico — or return home.

Still, the core group, which was in the city of Juchitán in southern Mexico on
Wednesday, numbers in the thousands.

That caravan’s unimpeded progress north has resonated deeply in the impoverished
countries of Central America, from which hundreds of thousands of people have
fled in recent years to escape violence and political repression, as well as poverty
exacerbated by drought and crop failures.

About two weeks ago, a follow-up caravan formed in the central Honduran town of
Comayagua. When it left, it numbered about 350, several migrants said. By the
time it crossed the border with Guatemala, it had grown to about 1,500.