Thousands of illegal immigrants in a caravan broke through a barricade of Mexican police dressed in anti-riot gear on Oct. 23, driven to action by what they say are impossible conditions in the overcrowded southern Mexican border city of Tapachula.
Around 400 Mexican interior police attempted to form a blockade to stop a flood of more than 2,000 illegal immigrants as they attempted to leave the city, which lies on Mexico’s border with Guatemala.
The protesters easily broke through police lines and made their way north along a highway that leads to the nation’s capital.
The city, which is in Mexico’s poorest state of Chiapas, is swollen with tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, and other countries, mostly in Central America.
Illegal immigrants have been pouring into Mexico since U.S. President Joe Biden took office following promises of a more “humane” approach to immigration.
Mexico allows those applying for humanitarian visas or asylum to stay in Chiapas while their case is processed, but those wishing to travel further north into Mexico and beyond must have a visa, or risk being deported to Guatemala.
But many in this caravan are willing to take that risk, said organizer Irineo Mujica. Mujica is an immigration reform activist with the organization Pueblos Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders).
He told Fox News that people in the caravan are calling on the Mexican government to “do their share” with the immigration crisis, adding that many would be content with Mexican papers and “the opportunity to work here.”
“A lot of them don’t want to go to the U.S.,” he said. “But the Biden administration, this administration, it’s like hauling them like cattle. We’re asking the Mexican government to give them papers to have a choice here, because Mexico, it’s a good place to live, to work.”
He said that most in the caravan were, for now, headed for the Mexican capital, although others may continue on to try their luck at the southern U.S. border.
José Antonio, a construction worker from Honduras, said he was planning to travel with the caravan to the northeastern Mexican city of Monterrey, where he was hoping to find work, which was hard to come by in Tapachula.
“They told me I had to wait because the appointments were full,” he said of the visa application process in the overwhelmed city. “There is no work there [in Tapachula], so out of necessity I joined this group.”
“We’ll go on, day by day, to get as far as we can,” he said, adding that he was worried his joining the caravan would negatively impact his visa application.
Mexican authorities have broken up smaller attempts at similar breakouts earlier this year.
Recent caravans haven’t been as large as those that crossed into Mexico in 2018 and 2019. However, a record-breaking number of illegal immigrants are still reaching the southern U.S. border, with an all-time high of 1.67 million border apprehensions reported for fiscal 2021 by U.S. authorities.
The Biden administration has blamed factors such as poverty, corruption, and violence as the root causes of the crisis, and proposed spending significant taxpayer money in an attempt to combat these issues.
But Mujica said he believes the systemic problems plaguing Central America will be harder to solve. “Money’s not going to solve the problem, throwing it to governments like Mexico where they’re throwing people from the southern border to the northern border,” he said of Mexico’s reaction to the crisis.
Meanwhile, critics of Biden’s immigration policies have pointed to the rollback of Trump-era border policies as the problem—particularly the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which kept asylum seekers in Mexico as their cases were processed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.