TAPACHULA, MEXICO – Honduran Rolando Rodrigo arrived last week in the Mexican city of Tapachula with his family, just one stop on the long route to the United States and the dream of a new life free from the poverty and gang violence that wracks their homeland.
But faced with increased controls by Mexican authorities, at the behest of Washington, to stem the flow of migrants heading north from Central America, they’re considering postponing their “American dream” for the time being.
Just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard exchanged congratulations on “significant progress” in a deal to slow down the wave of undocumented migrants heading for U.S. soil, Rodrigo wandered about Tapachula’s central square with his three-year-old son Gadiel asking for money to feed his family.
The 29-year-old arrived in Mexico on Friday with his wife Miriam, Gadiel and a young daughter. They’ve taken a modest hotel room in this south Mexican town, but only have enough money for a few nights’ stay.
They crossed the border into Mexico over rugged, hilly terrain near Tacana, a 4,000-meter high volcano near the border where they saw no sign of Mexico’s National Guard.
In June, Mexico deployed thousands of soldiers and police officers, both near its southern border with Guatemala and its northern border with the United States to slow the migrant flow, which has come principally from impoverished and crime-ridden Central American countries.
Rodrigo’s family carefully avoided the heavily guarded Suchiate River that forms part of the Mexico-Guatemala border.
“When you know the route well, you know how to go about” crossing the border, said Rodrigo.
The nine points along the river most often used by migrants crossing into Mexico are now permanently guarded by security forces.
Given the difficulties in getting to the United States “with my wife, we think we’d like to stay here for a couple of years,” said Rodrigo, who used to repair computers for a living.
Honduran, Guatemalan and El Salvadoran migrants have been reaching southern Mexico in unprecedented numbers since October.
In late May U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to hammer Mexico with new trade tariffs unless it acted decisively to stem the migrant wave.
Ebrard said Monday that the migrant flow had been reduced by “around 36.2 percent,” and that he would meet Pompeo again in 45 days to discuss progress.
While Rodrigo mingled amongst other migrants in Tapachula — including Cubans, Haitians, Indians and Bangladeshis — another Honduran, Jose Jimenez, was trying to relax with his wife Iris and daughter Aline.
Threatened with death by drug traffickers from his neighborhood, Jimenez opted to quit a stable job and leave for somewhere safer.
They crossed the Suchiate just over a month ago, crucially before the Mexican authorities stationed thousands of security forces along the river.
The family has requested asylum in Mexico, as well as a humanitarian visa that would allow them to travel to the U.S. border.
But not everyone agrees over where they should ultimately settle.
“Where will I work?” Jimenez asked his six-year-old daughter.
“Monterrey,” she replied, referring to the prosperous northeast Mexican industrial city, where her father spent two months working in 2007.
His wife, though, still has her eyes on the United States.
“If it’s not possible to get into the US, (Monterrey) is the other option,” said the welder, who now survives by unloading trucks in the Tapachula market for up to 16 hours a day.
The three family members sleep together on a couch in a room they rent on the outskirts of Tapachula.
Little by little, they’re adapting to the idea that their American dream might just turn out to be Mexican.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5