CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (CNS) — At this normally bustling border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala, Central American migrants – part of a caravan that set out Jan. 15 from San Pedro Sula, Honduras – sat patiently on folding chairs in the shade.
Mexican immigration officials distributed bottles of water, while members of the navy served meals of simple stew and slices of white bread.
When their names were read from a list, they proceeded to pick up one-year humanitarian visas, which allow them to freely travel through Mexico, work in the country and claim social benefits such as health care and education.
“I didn’t know they’d give us a visa,” said Josue Giron, 22, a welder from Honduras, who fled with the caravan after not being able make extortion payments.
“We didn’t believe it,” he added, pointing out that police in Honduras and border officials in Guatemala tried to stop the caravan’s progress. “We thought it was a trick. No government has wanted to help us.”
Mexico awaited the arrival of past caravans by deploying police and closing the border, prompting migrants to ford the Suchiate River, which separates Mexico and Guatemala.
This time, however, the new administration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised humanitarian visas, which are supposed to be processed within five days. Applicants can also wait in shelters set up for them while their paperwork is processed.
More than 14,000 migrants have applied for the humanitarian visas, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute tweeted Jan. 27. Long lines of applicants were still forming on the bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala, according to media photos.