Migrants test Trump strategy, cross river into Mexico

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — Hundreds of Central American migrants waded across the Suchiate River into southern Mexico Monday in a new test of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Central America strategy to keep them away from the U.S. border.

The migrants moved off the border bridge and toward the river after Mexican officials told them they would not be granted passage through the country.

Then they began wading across the shallow river. On the Mexican side, migrants ran from side to side along the river bank, kicking up dust and looking for an opening in the ranks of National Guard troops sent to meet them.

Guardsmen scrambled too, trying to head off groups and detaining people where they could. Many of migrants moved back to the river’s edge and a smaller number crossed back to Guatemala.

By early afternoon, a stalemate resumed, the difference being that the migrants were now on the Mexican side of the river. Riot police with shields also appeared on the Guatemala side of river, raising questions about what options really remained for the migrants.

Occasionally a few migrants would try to run through a break in the ranks of Mexican guardsmen, but most rested, waiting to see what would happen next.

The migrants want free passage across Mexico to the U.S. border and Mexico’s government on Monday rejected that.

While the government says the migrants are free to enter — and could compete for jobs if they want to stay and work — in practice, it has restricted such migrants to the southernmost states while their cases are processed by a sluggish bureaucracy. Those who do not request asylum or some protective status would likely be detained and deported.

A letter relayed to the migrants on Monday by an official of Mexico’s immigration agency restated the Mexican government’s position that the migrants would be allowed to enter in orderly fashion, while rejecting free passage.

Trump has forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, or apply in Central American countries, effectively removing one of the escape valves for previous caravans. Under threats of trade or other sanctions from the Trump administration, Mexico has stopped an earlier practice of allowing migrants to cross its territory unimpeded.

The Guatemala government issued new data Monday showing that 4,000 migrants crossed into the country through the two primary crossings used by the migrants last week, and over the weekend nearly 1,700 entered Mexico at two crossings. It said 400 were deported from Guatemala.

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Sonia Perez D. reported from Tecun Uman, Guatemala.

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