CIUDAD HIDALGO (Mexico) • Thousands of migrants who forced their way through Guatemala's northwestern border and flooded onto a bridge leading to Mexico, where riot police battled them back, yesterday waited at the border in the hope of continuing their journey to the United States.
The caravan of mainly Honduran migrants, whose journey has triggered escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric from US President Donald Trump, last Friday surged through a series of police lines and barricades up to the final fence on Mexico's southern border.
There - at the far end of the bridge over the Suchiate River, which forms the western part of the Mexico-Guatemala border - they hurled rocks and other objects at hundreds of riot police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Multiple migrants, federal police officers and journalists were wounded.
"We're running away from violence, and we arrive here and they just hit us more," sobbed 28-year-old Marta Ornelas Cazares, who was nursing her baby - but had lost her other two children, aged 10 and 15, in the turmoil.
"I don't know what happened; I thought we were going to cross peacefully and then suddenly there were rocks flying and tear gas," she told Agence France-Presse.
"We haven't eaten, the soldiers just sent us some water," Ms Marina Alvarado, 48, said. "We are imprisoned here, like animals. Please, open the door."
Mexican authorities insisted that the undocumented migrants would have to file asylum claims one at a time in order to enter the country.
They began letting them through in a trickle - first women and children, who were ushered onto trucks and taken to shelters.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto described the situation as "unprecedented".
"Violent entry into the country not only threatens our sovereignty, but also puts the migrants themselves at risk," he said in a video published on his social media profiles. He added that Mexico remains willing to support migrants who enter the country and respect its laws.
The migrants are generally fleeing poverty and insecurity in Honduras, where powerful street gangs rule their turf with brutal violence.
With a homicide rate of 43 per 100,000 citizens, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world.
"We're staying here until they open this fence," said Mr Adonai Sanchez, 36, who was travelling with his three nephews, aged two, three and 14. Others returned to the Guatemalan side late last Friday, where shelters have been providing them with food and water.
Various caravans had been travelling by bus or on foot from Honduras, converging in recent days on the town of Tecun Uman, Guatemala, near the border bridge.
Authorities in Ciudad Hidalgo, on the Mexican side, were expecting around 3,000 migrants to arrive in total.
President Trump railed against the migrants last Friday, saying "this country doesn't want them".
Last Thursday, he branded the migrant caravan an "onslaught" and an "assault on our country" in a series of typically fiery tweets.
He threatened to cut aid to the region, deploy the military and close the US-Mexican border if the authorities did not stop them.
In Mexico City, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after meeting his Mexican counterpart that migration across the two countries' border is reaching "a moment of crisis" and posing "a challenge for American sovereignty".
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray insisted that Mexico would not cave in to pressure to detain the migrants, urging the Trump administration to address the root causes of their northward flight: violent crime and poverty.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST