Frustration grows among thousands of migrants in camps at US-Mexico border as outside support fades

Madison Mendoza, her feet aching and her face burned by the sun, wept as she said she had nothing to feed her two-year-old son who she’d brought with her on the long trek toward the United States.

Mendoza, 22, said an aunt in Honduras had convinced her to join the migrant caravan, which she did two weeks ago in the capital of Tegucigalpa. The aunt said she’d have no problems, that people along the route in Mexico would help as they did for a large caravan that moved through the area in October.

But this time, the help did not come. The outpouring of aid that once greeted Central American migrants as they trekked in caravans through southern Mexico has been drying up. 

Hungrier, advancing slowly or not at all, and hounded by unhelpful local officials, frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 8,000 migrants in the southern state of Chiapas.

‘What causes me pain is that the baby asks me for food and there are days when I can’t provide it,’ said Mendoza, who fled Honduras with almost no money because she feared for her life after receiving threats from the father of her son. ‘I thought that with the baby, people would help me on road.’

Members of the caravan in October received food and shelter from town governments, churches and passers-by. Drivers of trucks stopped to give them a lift. 

Little of that is happening this time. And local officials who once gave them temporary permits to work in Mexico, now seem to snare them in red tape. Truckers and drivers have been told they will be fined if caught transporting migrants without proper documentation.

Mendoza bathed her son, José, under a stream of water in Escuintla, a Mexican town 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the Guatemalan border. It was the first time she has been able to bath the child since they left Tegucigalpa.

Frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 8,000 migrants who have set up camp in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas in recent days and weeks. Among them is Maria Mendoza (right), who fled Honduras last month with her two-year-old son

Frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 8,000 migrants who have set up camp in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas in recent days and weeks. Among them is Maria Mendoza (right), who fled Honduras last month with her two-year-old son

Frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 8,000 migrants who have set up camp in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas in recent days and weeks. Among them is Maria Mendoza (right), who fled Honduras last month with her two-year-old son

Honduran migrant Domingo Adolfo Chavez sits at a makeshift camp set up in Mapastepec on Saturday. Chavez, part of the caravan hoping to reach the US border, has been in the shelter for almost 15 days waiting for documents authorizing them to cross into Mexico

Honduran migrant Domingo Adolfo Chavez sits at a makeshift camp set up in Mapastepec on Saturday. Chavez, part of the caravan hoping to reach the US border, has been in the shelter for almost 15 days waiting for documents authorizing them to cross into Mexico

Honduran migrant Domingo Adolfo Chavez sits at a makeshift camp set up in Mapastepec on Saturday. Chavez, part of the caravan hoping to reach the US border, has been in the shelter for almost 15 days waiting for documents authorizing them to cross into Mexico

Some 1,300 migrants spent Saturday night in Escuintla before heading north to the border

Some 1,300 migrants spent Saturday night in Escuintla before heading north to the border

Some 1,300 migrants spent Saturday night in Escuintla before heading north to the border

‘I don’t even have a peso,’ she said, teary-eyed. Many migrants are collecting mangoes and fruits from trees along the route and sharing food among themselves.

Some 1,300 migrants spent the night in Escuintla and were heading north to the town of Mapastepec, Chiapas. Mendoza and José arrived in Mapastepec on Saturday. 

They joined thousands of stranded migrants waiting to see if local authorities provide them with a temporary permit or visa to work in Mexico or whether they would continue their trip to the US border.

Heyman Vázquez, a parish priest in Huixtla, a community along the caravan’s route, said local support for the Central American migrants has dried up because of an anti-migrant discourse that blames them for crime and insecurity.

‘It is due to the campaign of discrimination and xenophobia created through social networks and the media that blames migrants for the insecurity in Chiapas,’ he said.

Oscar Pérez, who sells cooked pork in Ulapa, a village along the way, said people have become tired of supporting the migrants because of reports that ‘they’ve become aggressive.’ He acknowledged, however, that he doesn’t know of anyone who has been attacked by a migrant.

The frustration felt by the migrants is affecting Geovani Villanueva, who has spent 25 days along with several hundred other migrants at a sports complex in Mapastepec waiting for a permit that would let him legally and safely travel north with his wife, two small children and four other relatives.

‘I think it’s a strategy by the government to wear us out,’ said Villanueva, 51.

A Honduras flag hangs in a makeshift camp, as Central American migrants, part of a caravan hoping to reach the US border rest in Escuintla, Chiapas State, Mexico, on Friday

A Honduras flag hangs in a makeshift camp, as Central American migrants, part of a caravan hoping to reach the US border rest in Escuintla, Chiapas State, Mexico, on Friday

A Honduras flag hangs in a makeshift camp, as Central American migrants, part of a caravan hoping to reach the US border rest in Escuintla, Chiapas State, Mexico, on Friday

A Central American migrant charges his phone at a makeshift camp set up in Escuintla

A Central American migrant charges his phone at a makeshift camp set up in Escuintla

A Central American migrant charges his phone at a makeshift camp set up in Escuintla

Two other migrants happily pose for photos as their caravan departs for Mapastepec

Two other migrants happily pose for photos as their caravan departs for Mapastepec

Two other migrants happily pose for photos as their caravan departs for Mapastepec

Honduran migrant Ainee Villanueva holds her son Iker at the makeshift camp in Mapastepec. Ainee and her family, part of the caravan hoping to reach the US border, have been in the shelter for 25 days waiting for documents authorizing to cross into Mexico

Honduran migrant Ainee Villanueva holds her son Iker at the makeshift camp in Mapastepec. Ainee and her family, part of the caravan hoping to reach the US border, have been in the shelter for 25 days waiting for documents authorizing to cross into Mexico

Honduran migrant Ainee Villanueva holds her son Iker at the makeshift camp in Mapastepec. Ainee and her family, part of the caravan hoping to reach the US border, have been in the shelter for 25 days waiting for documents authorizing to cross into Mexico

The latest caravan is heading north during Holy Week in Latin America, when many activists organize processions to dramatize the hardships and needs of migrants. Caravans became a popular way of making the trek because the migrants find safety in numbers and save money by not hiring smugglers.

Mexico is under pressure from the Trump administration to thwart them from reaching the US border. In April, President Donald Trump threatened to close the border before changing course and threatening tariffs on automobiles produced in Mexico if that country does not stop the flow of Central American migrants.

US border facilities have been overwhelmed by the number of migrant families. Customs and Border Protection announced recently that 53,000 parents and children were apprehended at the border in March.

Nancy Valladares, who is from the city of Progreso in Honduras, is part of the caravan that reached Mapastepec. She is traveling with her husband and two daughters in baby carriages.

She said the family hoped to reach the US and find help for her two-year-old daughter Belen, who she says was born with microcephaly due to a Zika infection, and cannot walk or talk.

Valladares complained that they weren’t able to find anyone to give them a ride, and when her family and scores of other migrants climbed on to a truck-trailer in Escuintla, federal police forced them to get down and walk.

Tired and angry, many migrants no longer want to talk to reporters.

Villanueva, who owned several small stores back in Honduras, said he left his homeland because gangs had threatened to kill him after he refused to pay extortion.

He said he left to save his life and one thing is clear to him: there is no turning back.

A migrant carries a child on his shoulder as a caravan 1,300-strong advances toward the US

A migrant carries a child on his shoulder as a caravan 1,300-strong advances toward the US

A migrant carries a child on his shoulder as a caravan 1,300-strong advances toward the US

Migrants can be seen pushing strollers with children and supplies down a road in Escuintla

Migrants can be seen pushing strollers with children and supplies down a road in Escuintla

Migrants can be seen pushing strollers with children and supplies down a road in Escuintla

Fredy Ulloa, a 20-year-old from Honduras, is photographed during a break Saturday morning

Fredy Ulloa, a 20-year-old from Honduras, is photographed during a break Saturday morning

Fredy Ulloa, a 20-year-old from Honduras, is photographed during a break Saturday morning

Central American migrants wash themselves in the street at a camp in Escuintla on Friday

Central American migrants wash themselves in the street at a camp in Escuintla on Friday

Central American migrants wash themselves in the street at a camp in Escuintla on Friday

A boy douses another young boy with water to clean off dirt and sweat from the long journey

A boy douses another young boy with water to clean off dirt and sweat from the long journey

A boy douses another young boy with water to clean off dirt and sweat from the long journey

Several young men killed time by kicking around a soccer ball at the camp

Several young men killed time by kicking around a soccer ball at the camp

Several young men killed time by kicking around a soccer ball at the camp

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