A caravan of migrants is nearing Mexico’s border. Will authorities turn them back?

Updated 12:13 PM EDT, Fri October 19, 2018
(CNN) —  

Thousands of migrants are about to arrive at Mexico’s doorstep. And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with officials in Mexico’s capital to discuss the situation.

The Honduran migrants, trekking in a caravan toward Mexico’s southern border, say they’re heading for the United States – fleeing violence and searching for economic opportunity.

Pompeo, meanwhile, is heading into meetings in Mexico City with a message for leaders there about the massive caravan of migrants: Stop them before they reach the US border.

The key questions: Will Mexico let the migrants in? And what will happen if they do?

The crossing point

The caravan quickly grabbed the attention of world leaders as word of its formation spread over the weekend. By Tuesday, US President Donald Trump had weighed in with a warning, threatening to cut foreign aid to Honduras if the group didn’t turn back.

But government statements, Twitter posts and even a police blockade haven’t succeeded in stopping the caravan. Thousands of Honduran migrants are traveling through Guatemala, according to humanitarian aid groups. And hundreds more are traveling through El Salvador en route to Guatemala.

They plan to cross Mexico’s border in the coming days, then continue north to the United States.

Already some migrants from the caravan have begun to arrive, seeking refuge, Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday night. And growing numbers of migrants have reached the Guatemalan city of Tecun Uman, across the winding Suchiate River from Mexico.

A bridge over the river marks an official crossing point.

Migrants have been known to cross the river on rafts for years – sometimes encountering authorities along the way, sometimes meeting little resistance as they slipped into Mexico and continued their journey north.

This file photo from August 9, 2018, shows an area where people cross the Suchiate River from Guatemala into Mexico. The illegal crossing point is located just under the international bridge connecting the two countries, circumventing immigration and customs checkpoints.
PHOTO: John Moore/Getty Images
This file photo from August 9, 2018, shows an area where people cross the Suchiate River from Guatemala into Mexico. The illegal crossing point is located just under the international bridge connecting the two countries, circumventing immigration and customs checkpoints.

Mexico outlines its plan

In recent days Mexican authorities have made a point of showing they were stepping up security near the country’s southern border. Mexican Federal Police released a video of officers arriving in the border state of Chiapas, some toting riot gear.

Mexico’s government also released a statement outlining how it planned to respond:

• Anyone with a valid visa will be able to enter and move freely.

• Anyone who wants to be recognized as a refugee or as a beneficiary of “complementary protection measures” must do so individually. Those who do so will be held “at a migratory station” for up to 45 business days.

• Anyone who enters “in an irregular manner” will be “rescued and subject to an administrative procedure and, where appropriate, will be returned to their country of origin in a safe and orderly manner.”

Mexican authorities have also said they’re asking for help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to process migrants seeking refugee status at the country’s southern border.

This appears to be a shift from previous policies, in which humanitarian or transit visas were issued, and migrants were given the option of continuing their journey north if they didn’t want to seek asylum in Mexico.