As Migrant Caravan Splinters, Trump Takes Credit and Mexico Scoffs

Migrants gathering for breakfast Thursday at a sports complex in Matías Romero, Mexico. A local church provided the meal.

MATÍAS ROMERO, Mexico — The caravan of Central American migrants that President Trump has portrayed as an emblem of flawed immigration policy in the United States began to splinter on Thursday, as hundreds of people departed this rural town aboard buses and on foot, abandoning the decrepit municipal sports complex where their journey had stalled for five nights.

But the movement’s organizers insisted that the caravan would regroup in the Mexican city of Puebla in the next few days before continuing on to Mexico City, where it would officially end after meetings with government officials and possibly a street protest.

Mr. Trump has been fixated on the caravan this week, making it a recurring motif in his tweets, warning that it represented a grave threat to the sovereignty of the United States, and using it as a justification for sending the military to reinforce the southwest border.

On Thursday morning, he returned to the subject, declaring that the caravan had mostly dissipated, even though organizers estimated at the time that there were still some 800 migrants gathered at the sports complex.

“The Caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our Border,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Mr. Trump said he had pressured the Mexican government to act against the caravan, a claim that drew a firm rebuttal from the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which said the caravan’s halt here in Matías Romero was a decision of the organizers, not the result of domestic or international pressure.

Mr. Peña Nieto sharply criticized Mr. Trump’s plan to send National Guard troops to the border. “If your recent statements are due to frustration over domestic politics, your laws, or your Congress, direct yourself to them, not to Mexicans,” he said Thursday.

Mr. Trump also asserted on Thursday that women migrating north were being raped “at levels that nobody’s ever seen before.” Caravan organizers and participants said they had heard of no such allegations in the 11 days since they began their northward march.

In what has become an annual rite, often around Easter week, hundreds of migrants, most of them Hondurans, started their northward procession from the southern border city of Tapachula on March 25. Under the aegis of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a transnational advocacy group, the migrants moved north en masse — on foot, hitchhiking and on the tops of trains.

The size of the group — 1,200 or larger — offered security for participants against criminals and other perils that lurk on the migrant trail. For the organizers, the multitude guaranteed more attention to the plight of the migrants, many of whom were fleeing hardship and violence.

The caravan’s organizers originally hoped to lead the group as far as the southwest border of the United States, which many hoped to cross one way or another. Based on past caravans, however, the organizers expected that the vast majority of participants would drop out along the way, choosing instead to travel in smaller groups or stay in Mexico.

But the group grew so big, including hundreds of children and infants, that the organizers paused the procession here last weekend, even before it had captured Mr. Trump’s attention.

The migration authorities, taking advantage of the lull, began registering the migrants this week and issuing them letters of safe passage. The documents offer protection from deportation for either three weeks or a month, depending on whether the migrant intends to apply for legal immigration status in Mexico or leave the country — which for many migrants means applying for asylum in the United States or otherwise trying to cross the border.

Told about Mr. Trump’s tweet on Thursday declaring the end of the caravan, Irineo Mujica, Mexico director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, shook his head in annoyance.

“This man is completely wrong,” he said in an interview. “We’re going to keep going.”

He reflected a moment; his conflict with the American president had come into even sharper focus. “We’re going to regroup in Puebla and send a message to Trump,” he announced. “Nobody is going to stop us.”

The size of the group camped at the sports complex here had gradually dropped over the course of the week as migrants received their safe-travel documents and left on their own. But there were still close to 1,000 on Wednesday, tired and undernourished, sleeping on sun-scorched soccer fields or in the shelter of forlorn buildings.

The first of the buses arrived before dawn on Thursday and took some 70 passengers to Puebla, where Pueblo Sin Fronteras plans to hold know-your-rights workshops. Two more buses left with every seat full around midday, one bound for Puebla and the other for Mexico City. Several more buses were expected to take only women and children to Puebla late Thursday.

A contingent of about 200 men left, planning to hitchhike to a rail crossing where they hoped to get a ride on the top of one of the freight trains known collectively as La Bestia, or the Beast. The property they were leaving behind was a wasteland of food wrappers, clothes left soggy by a torrential downpour overnight and the odor of improvised latrines in the lee of trees and bushes.

Alessandra López, 26, said she hoped to be on board one of the overnight buses to Puebla where she intended to seek guidance on how to prepare a petition for asylum in the United States. Ms. López, who is one of about a dozen transgender migrants in the caravan, said a criminal gang repeatedly tried to force her into prostitution and drug dealing.

“They tried to kill me,” she said. Her hope was to make it to the United States border and apply for asylum.

“How is it there?” she asked. “How is it crossing the bridge and asking for asylum?”

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