Migrants reject offer to stay in Mexico

A wall of police in riot gear blocks the highway to stop a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants from advancing, outside Arriaga, Chiapas state, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Migrants declined to accept a deal offered by the Mexican government allowing them to apply for refugee status if they halted their journey in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Eventually police let them pass, with the agreement that the dialogue with authorities would continue at their next stop. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

ARRIAGA, Mexico (AP) — More than a hundred Mexican federal officers carrying plastic shields abandoned a blockade they had formed on a bridge Saturday, allowing a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants to advance toward the United States.

The officers ended the standoff after representatives from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission told police that a rural stretch of highway without shade, toilets or water was no place for migrants to entertain a government offer of asylum in Mexico, which is why police said they set up the blockade.

Police boarded buses and headed further down the highway, while migrants cheered and vowed to trek all the way to the U.S. border despite fierce opposition from President Donald Trump.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a program on Friday dubbed “You are home,” which promises shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans who agree to stay in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca.

Thousands of migrants in the city of Arriaga rejected the plan Friday night, but said they could be willing to discuss it again once they reach Mexico City.

Some fear they will be deported if they take advantage of the program.

Police commissioner Benjamin Grajeda said authorities only blocked the highway Satur­day to tell people about the offer. “Here in this truck right now you can get help,” he said.

The caravan is now trying to strike out for Tapanatepec, about 29 miles up the road. Many members have been travelling for more than two weeks.

Orbelina Orellana, a migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, said she and her husband left three children behind and had decided to continue north one way or another.

“Our destiny is to get to the border,” she said.

She was suspicious of the government’s proposal and said that some Hondurans who had applied for legal status had already been sent back. Her claims could not be verified, but migrants’ representatives in the talks asked the Mexican government to provide a list of those who had been forced to return.