MEXICO CITY — The migrant caravan began another leg toward the U.S. border on Saturday, continuing the journey north from Mexico City a day after the Trump administration moved to restrict asylum options for unauthorized immigrants. The group waited in the capital for almost a week, hearing snippets of information about the militarization of the border and the U.S. midterm elections.
Members of the caravan appeared undeterred, affirming that returning to their home countries was not feasible. They boarded the subway before dawn to reach the outskirts of the Mexican capital.
The most pressing question: How long would it take to travel the 1,700 miles to Tijuana, on the border with California? Many vowed they would eventually cross into the United States.
The Trump administration’s new measures , which were announced Thursday, deny asylum to people who enter the United States between official ports of entry. Those arrivals can seek lesser status known as “withholding of removal” or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Either would temporarily prevent them from being deported but provides no path to permanent legal status.
All those who enter via official ports of entry will be able to seek asylum, and many caravan members say that’s their plan.
“If God wants it, we’re going to ask for political asylum on the border,” said Lourdes Martinez, 25, from La Ceiba, a coastal city in Honduras. She said she did not foresee problems since she would not be breaking the law. “I’m headed to one of the bridges, not crossing the river or anything like that.”
She was convinced she had a shot at making it to the United States, along with her husband and their 4-year-old daughter, because they were fleeing forced recruitment by the MS-13 gang in their hometown. Even when U.S. lawyers volunteering in Mexico warned the family could be detained for more than a year during asylum proceedings, she was not dissuaded.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging the presidential proclamation hours before it took effect on Saturday. Trump’s decree remained a concern among the lawyers, wearing orange fluorescent hats, who stood out from the crowd of migrants. Twenty of the lawyers walked around offering 10-minute summaries about asylum to migrants sprawled on the bleachers and in plastic tents in a sports stadium in Mexico City where they slept.
“People don’t understand their rights as asylum seekers, or refugees, even when they have strong asylum claims,” said Arturo Viscarra, a member of the U.S.-based National Lawyers Guild. He noted Central Americans have been crossing the U.S. border for decades.
But now, Viscarra said, “they have incredible wait times at ports of entry” — a situation that is only likely to get worse when the caravan reaches the border. Already, forced waits at official crossing points that can be weeks long have led people to cross illegally. Viscarra said he had documented cases in the border city of Reynosa in which migrants with asylum claims were turned away at bridges, then crossed between ports of entry, only to request asylum from U.S. authorities after they were detained.
That will be impossible under the new rules, at least for the next 90 days.
Some members of the caravan didn’t want to hear such dispiriting news. Sofia Sanchez, 40, from Cofradía, Honduras, who was traveling with her nephews, said she was more focused on the unity of the caravan than on hypothetical problems.
“They bring our morale down by telling us families could be separated,” Sanchez said. “I believe that God will help us, and we want to reach the other side of the border.”
Trump’s move applies to anyone who crosses the border without documents, but it has been seen as a preemptive step against the caravan, which has provoked the president’s ire since it left Honduras in mid-October. A previous caravan in the spring also traveled to Tijuana, where 401 people eventually sought asylum. But the administration reported it had also apprehended alleged caravan members who crossed illegally.
Rodrigo Abeja, a member of the activist collective Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which has been helping coordinate the caravan, said single men seeking work were most likely to attempt to cross between ports of entry, while others — entire families, women with children, unaccompanied minors or LGBTQ migrants — would be more likely to seek asylum.
Although many remained uncertain about what decision they would make at the border, he said, they were no longer willing to sit and debate in the sports stadium in Mexico City.
“People don’t have a reason to wait here anymore,” he said. “Many people want to reach the border, where they can then wait and get ready, but with the help of their family networks.”
Migrants who receive financial support from relatives in the United States at times do not cross immediately, but instead save up to pay a smuggler or prepare evidence for their asylum applications. Others decide to stay in northern cities in Mexico.
On Thursday, the marchers had held a late-night vote to determine their final destination. Many gathered around a map provided by the American Red Cross that showed the traditional routes to the border. A couple of the routes stretched toward Texas, to cities such as Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa, while another veered off toward Tijuana. The crowd selected Tijuana, although it was farther than any other city with a port of entry, because it was considered safer and the route there allowed them to avoid territory dominated by cartels.
The migrants traced the train lines on the map with their fingers, attempting to measure the distances. By morning, their bags were packed. Nearly 1,000 members of the group set out on Friday.
The estimated 4,000 others in the group eventually chose to wait until Saturday, as they pressed their demand that the United Nations provide them with buses, a request that was not met. They feared that weeks of walking would be especially hard for children, who had increasingly become sick and exhausted along the way.
According to Mexican authorities, almost 2,700 people from the caravan have received temporary permits while being processed for refugee status in Mexico. In each of the towns where the group already stopped, small numbers decided to return home. But most chose to continue traveling north.
“We don’t know whether to go illegally, because we see that the situation is complicated,” said Marlon Miralda, 23, who was traveling with his two older brothers from Honduras. “Even if I ask for asylum, there’s the possibility that they will send me back to my country.”