Mexico’s outgoing president offered a new way for the U.S.-bound migrant caravan to stay in Mexico, saying the migrants could remain in the country to work while any with children could send their kids to school.
Mexico’s announcement came as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized the use of troops and other military resources at the U.S.-Mexico border to prepare for the caravan’s arrival there.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Oct. 26, that migrants wishing to obtain temporary identification documents, jobs, and/or education for their children could do so by registering for asylum in southern Mexico.
“This plan is only for those who comply with Mexican laws, and it’s a first step towards a permanent solution for those who are granted refugee status in Mexico,” Pena Nieto said in a pre-recorded address broadcast on Friday afternoon.
To qualify for the scheme he called “Estas en Tu Casa” (“Make Yourself at Home”) migrants had to be in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, Pena Nieto said. The caravan is still in Chiapas but has been moving north in an attempt to reach the United States.
The president is leaving office in about one month and newly elected president Andrés Manuel López Obrador will assume office on Dec. 1. Obrador openly campaigned on open borders, telling a crowd in June: “We are going to defend the migrants of the entire American continent and all the migrants of the world who, by necessity, have to leave their villages to seek life in the United States.”
“It is a human right that we are going to defend,” he added.
Mexican officials said previously that migrants who don’t have proper papers would be deported, but few have actually been, and most of which only after they agreed to be deported. Officials said on Oct. 24, that approximately 1,743 migrants have sought asylum in Mexico while 116 people agreed to be deported.
Thousands of migrants refused Mexico’s offer, pledging to continue north.
“Our goal is not to remain in Mexico,” 58-year-old Oscar Sosa of Honduras told the Associated Press.
“Our goal is to make it to the (U.S). We want passage, that’s all.”
Other migrants yelled as they voted to reject the offer in a show of hands in the town of Arriaga, where they arrived Friday night. “No, we’re heading north!” they said.
Estimates of Caravan Vary
The migrant caravan started in northern Honduras and traveled across Guatemala to reach Mexico, with many migrants illegally crossing the Suchiate River to enter Mexico.
Pinpointing how many migrants are part of the caravan has been difficult, and estimates have varied widely.
Mexican officials claimed that the caravan was only made up of some 3,600 people on Oct. 24. Alex Mensing, an organizer with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said that the main caravan consists of at least 8,500 people including some 7,000 from Honduras, and has grown in recent days.
Officials in Mexico told El Universal earlier in the week that some 14,000 Hondurans were spread across the main caravans and several others that have started moving north from Honduras in recent days. The officials said the main caravan was composed of 7,333 people. The United Nations said on Oct. 22, that the main caravan had some 7,200 people.
On Oct. 26, the United Nations said that an estimated 2,300 children were traveling with the migrant caravan. Most estimates place children and women combined at less than 25 percent of the caravan.
Reuters contributed to this report.