SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS - Several hundred migrants who had departed from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Saturday in hopes of reaching the United States entered Guatemalan territory where they were intercepted by authorities who began talks on returning them to their homelands.
Some 300 migrants, mainly Hondurans and Nicaraguans, arrived in Corinto, Honduras Saturday afternoon and crossed into the Guatemalan border province of Izabal, where they were met by hundreds of anti-riot agents from the national police and army.
The Guatemalan Migration Institute said it was in talks with the migrants on returning them to their countries of origin. Those who wish to remain in Guatemala must present their personal identification document, vaccination card and a negative test for the coronavirus.
"People are being returned, everything in order, humanely," said institute general director Carlos Emilio Morales. "We are protecting our borders; we are protecting the health of all Guatemalans."
Guatemala's government said 36 people were deported to Honduras because they did not meet the requirements and a group of 10 who met immigration and health requirements were allowed to continue.
The migrants had begun their journey toward the U.S. from San Pedro Sula shortly after dawn Saturday, walking to the Guatemalan border in hopes that travelling in a group would be safer or cheaper than trying to hire smugglers or trying on their own. They were joined by a second smaller group.
Fabricio Ordonez, a young Honduran laborer, said he had joined the group in hopes of "giving a new life to my family."
"The dream is to be in the United States to be able to do many things in Honduras," he said, adding he was pessimistic that left-leaning President-elect Xiomara Castro, who takes office on Jan. 27, would be able to quickly solve the Central American nation's economic and social problems after 12 years of conservative administrations plagued by scandal.
"They have looted everything," he said. "It is going to be very hard for this government to improve things."
Nicaraguan marcher Ubaldo Lopez expressed hope that local officials would not try to hinder this group, as they have in the past.
"We know this is a very hard road and we ask God and the Honduran government to please accompany us to the border with Guatemala and not put more roadblocks," he said.
He said he hoped that Guatemala and Mexico also would allow the group to pass and that the U.S. government "will open the doors to us" -- despite repeated recent examples of regional governments, often under U.S. pressure, trying to halt such caravans.
The caravan, which is the first to be registered this year, originally had about 600 members but divided into several groups to try to evade the control of the Guatemalan authorities and go through the different border crossings and illegal routes.
Large numbers of migrants, many from Central America and Haiti, have reached the U.S. border over the past year, creating a headache for the administration of President Joe Biden.
In December, 56 migrants died when a truck carrying more than a hundred foreigners overturned on a highway in southern Mexico.
The U.S. Border Patrol has said it had more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the Mexican border between September 2020 and the same month in 2021, more than four times the total of the previous fiscal year.
Biden has backed proposals for $7 billion in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in hopes improved economic conditions will slow migration.
At the end of last year, the U.S. government reactivated an immigration policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their hearings. Mexico's foreign ministry confirmed the reactivation of the U.S. program and said it would temporarily not return migrants to their countries of origin for humanitarian reasons.
The government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has indicated that Washington has accepted its humanitarian concerns with the program, including the need for "greater resources for shelters and international organizations, protection for vulnerable groups, consideration of local security conditions" as well as vaccines and anti-COVID-19 measures from migrants.