CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — From the roadside stand where his family sells barbecue and chicken stew, Miguel Angel Vazquez has seen all the caravans of Central American migrants and asylum seekers stream past his front door in recent years, throngs of people driven to flee poverty and violence in hopes of a better life in the United States.
After watching armored National Guard troops and immigration agents break up the latest one right on his doorstep, loading men, women and wailing children onto buses and hauling them off to a detention center in the nearby city of Tapachula, he’s sure of one thing.
“I can see that these caravans are no longer going to pass,” said Vazquez, 56.
On Friday morning, life was back to normal at the river border between Ciudad Hidalgo and Tecun Uman, Guatemala.
Carmelino Sanchez Cumes, 54, left his home in Champerico Guatemala at 4 a.m. to come buy medicine for two elderly aunts that’s not available back home.
The partial closure of river crossings “was tough” on people accustomed to doing so as part of daily life, he said.
The international bridge reopened at 5 a.m. and cars and motorcycles were crossing freely.
National guard troops stood watch in groups of about a half dozen, visibly fewer than before, and said privately that the tension of recent days had vanished.
One said it’s easy to distinguish local Guatemalans who cross for ordinary reasons for their manner of speaking, and they’re welcome “because they’re neighbors.”
Across the river in Tecun Uman, the field where migrants had camped for days before crossing the river at dawn Thursday, was empty and cordoned off with yellow tape.
Neighbor Luis Caceres, 60, said some of the migrants had been camping in his yard.
He said he too is struggling to get enough work as a laborer, and he empathizes with their decisions to flee poverty and violence.
Caceres too tried once to emigrate to the United States but only made it as far as Arriaga before turning back, frightened after spending nights sleeping outdoors among snakes and scorpions.
“How you suffer on those trips,” he said.
Where the first caravans were allowed to pass through Mexican territory and even given humanitarian aid or transportation by many communities and some officials, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration changed that beginning last year in response to steep trade tariffs threatened by Washington.
The result was on display Thursday on a rural highway in the far-southern Mexican city of Frontera Hidalgo, just across the river border between Mexico and Guatemala that the hundreds of migrants, mostly Hondurans, crossed before dawn.
The migrants walked for hours before stopping at the crossroads where Vazquez’s stand lies, taking advantage of the copious shade on a road otherwise largely exposed to the beating tropical sun. They bought all the food and refreshments the family had and behaved respectfully, according to Karen Daniela Vazquez Robledo, his daughter.
Then hundreds of national guard troops advanced their lines to within 100 yards of the migrants. A brief negotiation stalled, and the migrants knelt to the ground in prayer and began to chant “we want to pass.”
National guardsmen advanced banging their plastic shields with batons and engaged the migrants. There was shoving and pepper spray as migrants were rounded up.
Many of the people allowed themselves to be escorted to the buses without resistance. Women cradling small children or holding kids’ hands wept as they walked toward the buses. In all, 800 migrants were detained, according to a statement from Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.
Others resisted and were subdued. One man dragged by three guardsmen and a migration agent shouted “they killed my brother, I don’t want to die,” presumably in reference to the possibility of being returned to his country.
A paramedic attended to an injured woman lying on the highway shoulder.