SAN PEDRO SULA – A few hundred Honduran migrants set out for the Guatemalan border before dawn Tuesday in hopes of eventually reaching the United States, but by afternoon they had largely dispersed.
Other recent caravans have been broken up by Guatemalan authorities and this relatively small one appeared to dissolve before reaching the Guatemala border on a day that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei about migration.
Young men and women, as well as families toting small children, walked along a busy six-lane road heading out of San Pedro Sula early Tuesday. They strung out into small groups with many hitching rides toward the border crossing at Corinto.
But relatively few arrived at the official border crossing and likely decided to cross at the numerous blind points along the border to avoid detection. There were three checkpoints before the border on the Honduras side where authorities checked documents, especially for those traveling with children. Across the border in Guatemala, there were several more military checkpoints.
Calls to form a new migrant caravan had circulated for days, but the turnout was smaller than one that formed January. That caravan, which grew to a few thousand migrants, was eventually dissolved by authorities in Guatemalan using tear gas and riot shields.
The Guatemalan and Mexican governments have taken a harder line against such caravans in recent times under pressure from the United States.
The large traveling groups, however, represent only a fraction of the regular daily migration flows, which typically go relatively unnoticed. Mexico last week began restricting crossings at its southern border to essential travel and stepped up operations to intercept migrants, especially families, in the south.
There has been hope among migrants that the administration of President Joe Biden would take a more compassionate view of them, but White House officials have tried for months to make it clear that the U.S. border is closed.
On Tuesday, the White House said in a statement that the U.S. vice president had spoken with Giammattei about “the significant risks to those leaving their homes and making the dangerous journey to the United States, especially during a global pandemic.”
Harris and Giammattei discussed efforts to address the root causes of migration and Harris thanked him for “his efforts to secure Guatemala’s southern border.”
U.S. authorities are expelling immediately the majority of migrants who cross the southern border, though a high number of unaccompanied children, which the Biden administration has said it will not expel, have created logistical challenges.
In Central America, some have taken the situation as a sign that if they bring young children, their chances of being allowed to remain in the U.S. will be higher.
The Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have accounted for the majority of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border in recent years. Gang violence and a lack of economic opportunities are the main reasons migrants give for leaving.
The economic situation in those countries has only grown more acute under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic and two major hurricanes that raked the region in November.
The Biden administration has said it wants to spend $4 billion on development in those countries to address root causes of immigration.