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article imageMigrants unwittingly take center stage in US vote

By Yussel GONZALEZ (AFP)     Nov 6, 2018 in World

The Central American migrants trekking toward the United States in a caravan have unwittingly become key players in Tuesday's US midterms, though many are not even aware the elections are happening.

As Americans headed to the polls for a vote seen as a referendum on Donald Trump's presidency, it was just another day on the road for some 4,500 migrants camped out at a stadium-turned-shelter in Mexico City.

Having spent the night in the high-altitude chill of the Mexican capital, they made small talk, nursed nasty colds and feet mangled by weeks of walking and sought to warm themselves as they stood in line waiting for breakfast.

Seeking to maintain the Republican party's control of Congress and mobilize his base with hardline anti-immigration rhetoric, Trump has repeatedly attacked the caravan in the run-up to election day.

He called it a "national emergency," warned it had been infiltrated by violent criminals and "unknown Middle Easterners" and deployed some 5,000 active-duty troops to secure the US-Mexican border.

Migrant caravans
Migrant caravans
Tatiana MAGARINOS, AFP

But as they rested and regrouped in Mexico City -- still more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the border -- most in the caravan were only vaguely aware of the outsize political dimension their trek had taken on.

"We don't have access to a lot of information on the road. I didn't even know" the United States was holding elections Tuesday, said Jairo Velazquez, a 24-year-old Honduran migrant.

Many in the caravan were more concerned with finding a phone or internet cafe to talk with their families back in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- the violent and impoverished "Northern Triangle" of Central America that they are fleeing.

Some just wanted to find something more to eat than the small portion of eggs and beans served by the Mexican authorities running the makeshift shelter where they have paused to rest.

Others, however, had messages for the American president on voting day.

"Donald Trump is not the master of the Earth. The only master of the Earth is God. And it is for everyone to walk on, from east to west, from south to north," said Uziel Cantillano, 31.

Trump "needs to soften his heart and open the border, because all these people just want to work," he told AFP.

- Safety in numbers -

Migrants from Central American countries have banded together for safety on the long journey north t...
Migrants from Central American countries have banded together for safety on the long journey north to the United States
PEDRO PARDO, AFP

The caravan set out on October 13 from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and was joined by other groups from Guatemala and El Salvador along the way.

Hitch-hiking and walking, often in plastic shoes or flip-flops, sometimes pushing their babies in strollers, the migrants have covered more than 1,000 miles so far.

Many of them are fleeing poverty and insecurity in their home countries, where powerful street gangs rule their turf with brutal violence.

"Back in Honduras, there's no work, there's violent crime. If you do manage to make a little money, (the gangs) extort you or kill you," said Juan Manuel Deras, 36, who left his wife and four children back home to try to make a better future for all of them.

- 'Hard-working people' -

Stopping in Mexico City  the migrants took shelter for the night in a sports center
Stopping in Mexico City, the migrants took shelter for the night in a sports center
Alfredo ESTRELLA, AFP

Images of this sea of Central Americans heading toward the United States and forcing their way across the Mexico-Guatemala border on October 19 have fed into Trump's politics, fueling his message that his Democratic adversaries "want open-borders socialism."

Trump has alleged the caravan includes members of the violent street gang MS-13.

Mexican authorities said Monday they had no evidence of criminals or people who could pose a security threat traveling in the caravan.

Some migrants, however, said they were aware of a small band of young gang members in the group.

A Central American migrant resting at a shelter at a Mexico City sports center; many on the trek to ...
A Central American migrant resting at a shelter at a Mexico City sports center; many on the trek to the US border are only vaguely aware of the impact they have had on the US midterm elections
Alfredo ESTRELLA, AFP

But about 75 percent of the caravan are "women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable people," and the rest "are mostly young men with their families," according to Gustavo Rodriguez Zarate, who helped host them over the weekend as head of migrant support programs for the Catholic archdiocese of Puebla.

As they rested in Mexico City and planned their next move, some migrants were hopeful the US elections could change their plight.

"If they elect a new Congress, maybe that will give us an opportunity to reach the United States," said Carlos Rivera, 25, a Honduran man wearing a winter hat with an American flag on it.

Regardless of how Tuesday's vote goes, the influx of migrants is unlikely to stop: two more caravans with around 2,000 migrants each are currently making their way across southern Mexico.

More about US, Vote, Migration, centram, Mexico
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