So many migrants have stopped in the southern Mexican town of Mapastepec in recent months that longstanding sympathy for the Central Americans migrants traveling to the U.S. is starting to decline.
For weeks, hundreds of migrants have been camping out in Mapastepec, where locals say six migrant caravans have arrived since last Easter. So far, the biggest was a group of thousands of migrant that arrived in October, and which drew the anger of Donald Trump.
Ana Gabriela Galván, a local resident who helped to provide food to migrants in the October caravan, told Reuters that the small town in the impoverished state of Chiapas felt overwhelmed by the number of Central Americans migrants.
“It’s really bad because they’re pouring onto our land,” she said, noting that some locals were reluctant to leave their homes. “They ask for money, and if you offer food, they don’t want it; they want money and sometimes you don’t have any.”
Following a surge in detentions of Central American migrants trying to seek asylum in the United States, Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border if the Mexican government did not stop illegal immigration right away.
The administration led by President López Obrador has stepped up migrant detentions and tightened access to humanitarian visas, slowing the flow of caravans north and leaving hundreds of people in Mapastepec.
The humanitarian visas allow migrants to stay in Mexico temporarily and get jobs. The documents also make it easier for them to travel through the country or seek longer residence.
A month ago, a large knot of migrants began forming in Mapastepec when the National Migration Institute closed its main office in the nearby city of Tapachula. The closure prompted hundreds to travel north, where the agency has a smaller outpost.
Since then, large groups of men, women, and children have been staying in and around a local sports stadium, hoping to be granted humanitarian visas.
Southern Mexico has long sent thousands of migrants north and support for them has traditionally been strong there. In contrast, concentrations of Central American migrants on Mexico’s northern border caused tensions in the city of Tijuana when caravans arrived late last year.
In February, a survey of around 500 adults by the Center of Public Opinion at the University of the Valley of Mexico (UVM) found that 83% of respondents believed the Central American migrants could cause problems for Mexico.
Rising crime, increased poverty and a decline in social services were the top risks identified by the poll.
Offered a binary choice on what should be done, 62% of those polled said Mexico should be stricter with migrants entering its territory. The other 38% said Mexico should help to develop Central America, as López Obrador argues. The study did not publish a margin of error.
Jesús Salvador Quintana, a senior official at the National Human Rights Commission, said in Mapastepec the body had noticed a decrease in assistance from the public but urged people to keep helping the migrants on their grueling journeys.
“There are children, pregnant women, whole families that sometimes need this humanitarian aid,” he told Reuters.
Anabel Quintero, a young Honduran mother in Mapastepec, said when her caravan passed through the nearby town of Huixtla some shops closed rather than sell to migrants who were seeking medicine for sick children.
“It’s a bad feeling,” she said. “They told us they didn’t want us sleeping in the park, and we had to leave.”
Residents of Mapastepec are also running out of patience.
Street vendor Brenda Marisol Ballesteros said it was time for authorities to move the migrants onward.
“Why?,” she said. “Because things are in a real mess.”
Mexico’s Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero warned that a new migrant caravan was forming in Honduras