Several thousand Central American migrants have turned down a Mexican offer of benefits if they applied for refugee status and stayed in the country’s two southern-most states, vowing to continue their long trek toward the US border.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced what he called the “You are at home” plan, offering shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans in Chiapas and Oaxaca states if they applied, calling it a first step toward permanent refugee status.
Authorities said more than 1,700 had already applied for refugee status.
But after one of the caravan’s longest days of walking and hanging from passing trucks, the bulk of the migrants were boisterous on Friday evening in their refusal to accept anything less than safe passage to the US border.
“Thank you” they yelled as they voted to reject the offer in a show of hands in the town of Arriaga.
They then added: “No, we’re heading north!”
Sitting at the edge of the edge of the town square, 58-year-old Oscar Sosa of San Pedro Sula, Honduras concurred.
“Our goal is not to remain in Mexico,” Mr Sosa said. “Our goal is to make it to the [US]. We want passage, that’s all.”
Still 1,000 miles from the nearest US border crossing at McAllen, Texas, the journey could be twice as long if the group heads for the Tijuana-San Diego frontier, as another caravan did earlier this year.
Only about 200 in that group made it to the border.
While such migrant caravans have taken place regularly over the years, passing largely unnoticed, they have received widespread attention this year after fierce opposition from US President Donald Trump.
On Friday, the Pentagon approved a request for additional troops at the southern border, likely to total several hundred, to help the US Border Patrol as Prseident Trump seeks to transform concerns about immigration and the caravan into electoral gains in the November 6 mid-term elections.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed off on the request for help from the Department of Homeland Security and authorised the military staff to work out details such as the size, composition and estimated cost of the deployments, according to a US official.
Stoking fears about the caravan and illegal immigration to rally his Republican base, the president has insinuated that gang members and “Middle Easterners” are mixed in the group, though he later acknowledged there was no proof of that.
Mexico’s government has allowed the migrants to make their way on foot, but has not provided them with food, shelter or bathrooms, reserving any aid for those who turn themselves in.
Police have also been ejecting paid migrant passengers off buses, enforcing an obscure road insurance regulation to make it tougher for them to travel that way.
Authorities were also cracking down on smaller groups trying to catch up with the main caravan, detaining about 300 Hondurans and Guatemalans as they walked along a highway after crossing the Mexico border illegally, said an official with the national immigration authority.