By Mark Stevenson
TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — Thousands of Central American migrants resumed an arduous trek toward the U.S. border Monday, with members bristling at suggestions there could be terrorists among them and saying the caravan is being used for political ends by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The caravan’s numbers have continued to grow, and the United Nations estimated that it currently comprises some 7,200 people, “many of whom intend to continue the march north.”
However, they were still some 1,140 miles from the nearest border crossing — McAllen, Texas — and the length of their journey could double if they go to Tijuana-San Diego, as many did in another caravan earlier this year. That one shrank significantly as it moved through Mexico, and only a tiny fraction — about 200 of the 1,200 in the group — reached the border in California.
The same could well happen this time around as some turn back, splinter off on their own or decide to take their chances on asylum in Mexico.
While such caravans have occurred semi-regularly over the years, this one has become a particularly hot topic ahead of U.S. midterm elections in early November, and an immigrant rights activist traveling with the group accused Trump of using it to stir up his Republican base.
“It is a shame that a president so powerful uses this caravan for political ends,” said Irineo Mujica of the group Pueblo Sin Fronteras — People Without Borders — which works to provide humanitarian aid to migrants.
Some have questioned the timing so close to the vote and whether some political force was behind it, though by all appearances it began as a group of 160 who decided to band together in Honduras for protection and snowballed as the group moved north.
“No one is capable of organizing this many people,” Mujica said, adding that there are only two forces driving this: “hunger and death.”
Earlier in the day Trump renewed threats against Central American governments and blasted Democrats for what he called “pathetic” immigration laws.
In another tweet, he blamed Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for not stopping people from leaving their countries. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” he wrote.
A team of AP journalists traveling with the caravan for more than a week has spoken with Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, but has not met any Middle Easterners, who Trump suggested were “mixed in” with the Central American migrants.
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