Mexican police carrying riot shields clashed with a caravan of hundreds of Central American migrants after they waded across the Suchiate river separating Guatemala from Mexico in an attempt to defy a US-inspired Mexican crackdown.
The scene recalled a chaotic crossing at the same point in October 2018, before President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office, when thousands of migrants crossed the river after being penned up on a border bridge for hours and tear gassed.
The migrants, from the self-styled “God is Love” or “2020 Caravan” that departed from Honduras last Wednesday and includes some Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans, had earlier sought to negotiate passage through Mexico to the US, despite Donald Trump’s refusal to let in asylum seekers.
Reporters on the scene witnessed disturbances after hundreds of migrants, some carrying small children, arrived on the Mexican side of the border where Mr López Obrador’s new militarised national guard police force was waiting. The Suchiate river is low at this time of year and the crossing was easy.
Some migrants pelted the police with rocks and sticks, video footage showed.
“Just witnessed a full on military operation by Mexico’s National Guard against caravan migrants who walked across the river into Mexico. Families running and screaming. Rocks flying. Babies crying. Total chaos,” tweeted James Fredrick, an immigration reporter, from southern Mexico.
Agence France-Presse news agency said Mexican police, who were outnumbered, had used tear gas. Migrants later continued towards the town of Tapachula.
The scenes contrasted with Mr López Obrador’s initial open-door policy towards Mexico’s Central American “brothers” and his promise of jobs that many migrants fleeing poverty and violence do not want, preferring to seek to reunite with family members in the US and earn dollars.
However, Mr López Obrador toughened his stance last June and began cracking down on migrants to stave off Mr Trump’s threat of damaging tariffs on Mexican exports.
Since a peak of 144,116 border apprehensions last May, the crackdown slashed migrant flows by 64 per cent to 40,620 in December, according to the US Customs and Border Security.
The latest caravan initially numbered more than 3,000 but has partially broken up. Before hundreds surged across the river, Mexico’s immigration ministry repeated that it would allow the “regulated, safe and orderly” entry of migrants — meaning registration and either asylum applications or deportation from Mexico.
The US has increasingly clamped down on asylum-seekers and migrants, including through agreements with Central American nations to deport them.