The controversial Central American migrant caravan, which President Donald Trump has turned into a U.S. midterms elections issue, crawled through southern Mexico on Thursday amid conflicting reports about whether it’s growing or shrinking.
One thing is certain: the caravan remains more than 1,000 miles from the U.S,-Mexico border.
Some migrants began arriving early Thursday to Mapastepec, a Pacific coastal town of less than 50,000 people in the state of Chiapas. Their next stop is Pijijipiapan, some 25 miles away.
The Mexican government estimates the number of people taking part in the caravan has fallen below 4,000, while those assisting it say it’s ballooned to 10,000.
The Mexican government reported late Wednesday that the number of caravan migrants was down to 3,630 people, noting those who dropped out either applied for asylum in Mexico or chose to return home. On Thursday, it did not provide an updated count on migrants, but reported that 1,743 had applied for asylum or refugee status and 196 are being aided in voluntarily returning home.
United Nations officials, who are assisting Mexican authorities in reviewing claims of migrants, said Monday that more than 7,200 people had taken part in the caravan.
Alex Mensing, a U.S.-based organizer with the group Pubelo Sin Fronteras, which is providing humanitarian assistance to the migrants, said the size of the caravan has swelled to 10,000 people.
He also told reporters in a conference call that the migrants were at least 1,000 miles away from the nearest U.S. border city and that it could take a month or longer before they get there.
The caravan, which embarked Oct. 12 from Honduras, has traveled about 90 miles from the Guatemalan border since crossing into Mexico over the weekend. It is still unclear which route they will take to reach the U.S., Mensing said.
Migrants traveling through Mexico toward the U.S. typically ride freight trains, known as “la bestia,” the beast, but that is not possible with so many people traveling together at once, according to Mensing.
He dismissed claims by the Trump administration and others that the caravan was being organized and funded by leftist or right-wing groups trying to influence the upcoming midterm U.S. elections as “absurd.”
Angelica Esmeralda Sanchez,18, left, and her friend Ericka Martinez 28, both from El Salvador are with a new wave of several hundred migrants gathered near a park in Tecum Uman, Guatemala on Oct. 25, 2018. They are waiting to cross into Mexico and to head north to the United States.
The Central American migrants come mostly from Honduras but also includes those from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Trump wrote a direct message to the migrants: “To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!”
Speaking Wednesday night at a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, Trump talked about the caravan as among the top issues in next month’s midterm elections.
“This will be the election of the caravans, Kavanaugh, law and order, tax cuts, and common sense,” he told the crowd of supporters.
He again claimed that Democrats were backing the existing caravan and drumming up support for more caravans.
“As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly encouraging caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to violate our laws and break into our country,” Trump said.
“The crisis on the border – and it is a crisis, it’s crazy – right now is the sole result of Democrat laws and activists, Democrat judges that do whatever they want and that prevent us from returning illegal aliens back home to Central America and other parts of the world.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a joint statement last weekend saying “the president is desperate to change the subject from health care to immigration because he knows that health care is the number one issue Americans care about.”
“Democrats are focused like a laser on health care and will not be diverted,” they said.
Trump has also threatened to cut aid to Central American governments, closed the southern border with Mexico and deploy the military to the border. On Thursday, several media outlets reported the Pentagon was preparing to dispatch at least 800 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help federal immigration authorities.