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By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

More than 9,000 Hondurans refugees headed to the U.S. border were blocked by Guatemalan soldiers on Saturday, Jan. 16, not far from where they entered the country illegally.

The migrants crossed into Guatemala in a caravan that had — in the course of just 24 hours, swelled from 3,000 to triple that size — in the hopes of reaching the United States in the early days of new Joe Biden administration.

At the beginning, some 2,000 Guatemalan officials tried to halt the migrants at the border, demanding legal documentation and proof that they had tested negative for the coronavirus, a form which is now mandatory for legal entry into that Central American country.

However, according to Guatemalan government reports, the migrants managed to push past the soldiers and border police and force their way into the country.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei — a former director of the Guatemalan penitentiary system who took office a year ago after campaigning on a promise to stop illegal migration, reinstate the death penalty and crush violent street gangs — ordered that the undocumented Hondurans be contained immediately.

Guatemalan soldiers then proceeded to block the migrants along the highway in Chiquimula, near the Honduras border, detaining over half of them.

Tegucigalpa has since established more than 10 control posts along the highway, and said that it may begin busing the migrants back to Honduras.

Honduras has long been plagued by mass migration — mostly headed to the United States — due to abject poverty and gang and drug violence.

In late 2018, more than 150,000 Central American migrants — the majority from Honduras — flooded north in large caravans in search of asylum in the United States, but after U.S. President Donald Trump made a deal with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in early 2019 to use his then-newly formed National Guard (GN) to block their entry into Mexico, the caravan phenomenon slowly fizzled out.

While thousands of undocumented migrants making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border continue to march northward each month — mostly by foot, but some in motor vehicles — few have traveled in caravans since early 2019.

Instead, most of the migrants have been dispersed.

This new Honduran migrant caravan was the first this year, and came less than a week before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is due to take office on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

In interviews, some of the migrants stated that they hoped the new U.S. administration would be more lenient regarding their asylum appeals.

Under the Trump administration, many asylum seekers had to wait in Mexico for their requests to be reviewed, a process that could take up to a year.

Due to the expanding covid-19 pandemic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico have all implemented new public health measures protocols to prevent unauthorized border crossings.

Mexico has said it will not allow the migrants to enter the country and, over the weekend, positioned hundreds of National Guard troops along its southern border to block their entry.

In a statement Friday, Jan. 15, Mexican National Immigration Institute Director Francisco Garduño Yáñez said that the government will protect its national territory through “orderly, safe and legal migration that respects human rights.”

One day earlier, Mexican officials said that they had discussed migration with Biden’s appointee for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, focusing mainly on the issue of economic development programs to address the source of some of the migration, rather than border control measures.

As of Sunday, Jan.17, the Biden team had issued no official comment regarding the Honduran caravan.

…Jan. 18, 2021

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