Mexico halts migrant caravan, deports hundreds to Honduras

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s government said on Tuesday that it largely halted a caravan of undocumented Central Americans migrants who waded across a river into Mexico, and says others who attempt to enter the country illegally will face the same consequences.

The caravan, part of a group of several thousand people who last week fled rampant gang violence and dire job prospects in Honduras, are a major test for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s strategy for stopping U.S.-bound migrants.

Though President Donald Trump’s promised border wall has not been built, the number of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border has dropped sharply as Mexico stepped up the policing of its borders under the threat of punitive U.S. tariffs.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said about 1,000 people managed to cross the country’s southern border on Monday from Guatemala.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said it deported 219 migrants to Honduras by plane in two separate flights. Ebrard said another 144 people were sent by bus.

“These two flights are the first of the year and we expect to carry out more in the coming days,” the INM said.

On Monday the INM said it detained 402 migrants and transferred them to immigration stations where they will receive food, water and shelter. The INM will return them to their home countries via airplane or bus if their legal status cannot be resolved.

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It is unclear if some of those deported are the same people whom the INM said it had detained.

“We do not know if another group will arrive and, if so, we will have the same type of response,” Ebrard said at a news conference.

Mexican security forces clashed with the Central American migrants who crossed into Mexico on Monday, in a chaotic scramble that saw mothers separated from their young children.

The Human Rights Observation and Monitoring Collective in Southeast Mexico, a collective of aid groups, said it spoke to an “upset” woman being escorted by an INM official and National Guard soldier who had lost track of her son and daughter.

“The woman said that when she was detained she asked the officers to let her go find her 5-year-old daughter, but they didn’t let her do so and she lost contact with her,” the collective said in a statement.

A Reuters witness on Monday spoke to at least two mothers whose young children went missing amid the chaos, as the migrants on Mexican soil scattered in an attempt to avoid being detained by Mexican officials.

The attorney general’s office for the state of Chiapas, where the migrants had crossed into Mexico, said it had located two Honduran minors.

A spokeswoman at the INM said there are now no reports of lost minors.

Lopez Obrador told a news conference on Tuesday that the operations to control the flow of migrants at the country’s southern border were meant to protect them.

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Julia Love and Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler