Trump threat: ‘We’ll cut them off’
DONALD Trump has issued a dire threat as a gigantic group of migrants makes its way through Mexico towards the United States border.
The US President warned on Twitter that he would inflict heavy sanctions on the troubled countries from which the thousands of migrants who have joined the so-called "caravan" fled.
He said the US would begin "cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid" it gives to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as punishment for their failure to stop citizens leaving their home countries and illegally crossing the border from Mexico.
Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws! Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
Mr Trump said people should "think of and blame the Democrats" for the caravan, "for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws".
He hit out at the Mexican authorities for failing to stop the group, saying he had alerted Border Patrol and Military of a national emergency, saying the migrants included "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners".
Honduras-born caravan leader Denis Omar Contreras hit back at Mr Trump's claim, saying: "There isn't a single terrorist here."
He said that the participants he had met were all from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. "As far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt governments."
Associated Press journalists travelling with the caravan for more than a week said they had also not met any Middle Easterners or criminals Mr Trump claimed were "mixed in" with the migrants.
Distressing images have been pouring forth of the marchers, some of them families with young children or pregnant women, all so desperate to escape their countries that they are risking their lives on the road.
The footage promises to be a key issue in the November 6 elections, with Mr Trump telling voters to "Remember the midterms!".
Both Republicans and Democrats are already using the dire situation as a political weapon to win the support for their immigration policies.
The caravan formed in Honduras more than a week ago with fewer than 200 members but had swelled to between 5000 and 7000 by Sunday as they made their way through Guatemala.
Police blocked the border between Guatemala and southern Mexico, but many participants found ways to cross over into the country, with officials saying they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people.
Days of walking in blazing sun and sleeping on the streets has left many sick, injured and hobbling on blistered, infected feet. Some Mexicans have offered them food, water and clothing, or taken them some distance in their vehicles.
The migrants are fleeing countries ravaged by drug and human trafficking, gang violence, corruption and abject poverty.
Despite its homicide rate dropping in recent years, Honduras still sees 43 murders per 100,000 citizens, making it one of the most violent countries in the world. In comparison, the US homicide rate is 5.3 per 100,000 people.
The US gave more than $1.25 billion of aid to the three countries in 2016 and 201, according to the United States Agency for International Development. The aid is intended to fund counter-drug activities, education and nutrition - programs designed to help citizens of those countries remain there and lead better lives.
Hundreds of migrants continue to join the caravan, swimming or rafting across the Suchiate River, which separates Guatemala from Mexico.
Local authorities on Sunday reported their numbers had swelled to 7000. Jose Anibal Rivera, from Honduras, crossed into Mexico by raft on Sunday and walked to Tapachula.
"Anything that happens, even if they kill me, is better than going back to Honduras," the 52-year-old unemployed security guard told AP.
Ana Luisa Espana, a clothes washer and ironer from Guatemala, told the agency: "The goal is to reach the (US) border. We only want to work and if a job turns up in Mexico, I would do it. We would do anything, except bad things."
Julio Asturias, 27, a migrant from San Juan, El Salvador, said he was deported from the US a couple of months ago after police pulled him over for a burned-out tail light.
"I want to return to Arizona, and when I heard that the caravan was passing, I joined it," he said.
This caravan is different to previous ones in sheer size, and the fact that it has grown to an unprecedented scale through word of mouth.
It started in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras after a call on social networks to join a "Migrant march", shared by a politician. "We're not leaving because we want to, but because we are being expelled by violence and poverty," the advert read.
Bartolo Fuentes - a member of leftist former president Manuel Zelaya's Freedom and Refoundation Party - told AFP he only reproduced the poster on his Facebook page.
The horrifying images are already becoming a political football for Democrats and Republicans as the midterms loom, with both sides placing blame on the other for the chaos.
Mr Trump began ramping up the rhetoric on Sunday, tweeting that the caravan was the "Democrats' fault for weak laws!" and "a disgrace to the Democrat Party."
Republican senator Marco Rubio claimed the caravan had been "manufactured by supporters of a radical agenda who are using poor & desperate people to try & embarrass & undermine the US in the region."
But media expert Matthew Gertz said footage of the "mob of humanity driving towards the US" would benefit the GOP, by stoking fears over migration.
Irineo Mujica, from humanitarian group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said: "It is a shame that a president so powerful uses this caravan for political ends."
He said "hunger and death" had prompted the migration, adding: "No one is capable of organiding this many people. Nobody. It's an exodus."
- with wires