By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – At least 2,200 people have entered Guatemala as part of a fast-growing U.S.-bound caravan from Honduras, authorities said on Thursday, putting pressure on the region to satisfy Trump administration demands to curb illegal immigration.
U.S. border agents looked on as the group of Central American migrants crossed into Guatemala on their way north, a representative of the regional human rights department said, while Mexico braces for their arrival on its southern border.
The event is likely to be closely monitored by the U.S. government, which has made cutting illegal immigration a priority. U.S. border agents are assisting Guatemala, a U.S. embassy spokesman told Reuters.
Guatemala’s National Migration Institute said in a statement that at least 2,274 people had entered the country. Institute spokeswoman Alejandra Mena said the migrants had mostly crossed the northern part of the border with Honduras.
U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured Mexico and Central American nations to accept a series of migration pacts that aim to shift the burden of dealing with asylum-seekers on to them, and away from the United States.
“We do not want to see our citizens used as pawns, or be made to suffer because of political battles in Honduras or the United States,” the Honduran government said in a statement.
The government was creating economic opportunities and legal migration options, it said, adding, “This caravan is another attempt to disrupt this.”
Most migrants caught on the U.S. border with Mexico have left El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, looking to escape chronic poverty or gang violence.
Unlike Guatemala, Mexico has refused to become a so-called safe third country obliging it to accept asylum claims from migrants who set foot on its soil. Still, Trump has threatened trade sanctions if it does not contain the flow of people.
Guatemala’s new president, Alejandro Giammattei, said on Wednesday that Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard had told him the country would not allow the new caravan to pass.
Mexico’s foreign ministry has not responded directly to that assertion. However, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said the border would be policed and the Mexican government would not issue any safe conduct visas to the migrants.
“That’s very clear,” she told reporters.
Some of the migrants shared communications on messaging service WhatsApp showing that some Hondurans had said they planned to meet in Guatemala’s northern town of Santa Elena and head for the Mexican border on Saturday.
Under a freedom of movement accord among northern Central American countries, Giammattei said he would let the caravan enter Guatemala, provided people had the necessary paperwork.
Some migrants were turned back at the Guatemalan border on Wednesday and Honduran police fired tear gas on others who tried to cross without going through migration checks.
(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Clarence Fernandez)