TAPACHULA, MEXICO (REUTERS) - A United States-bound caravan of thousands of mostly Honduran migrants, who have been condemned as unwelcome by President Donald Trump, began moving into Mexico on Sunday (Oct 21), shadowed by hundreds of Mexican police en route to the border city of Tapachula.
The migrants have defied threats by Mr Trump that he will close the US-Mexico border if the caravan advances and warnings from the Mexican government that they risk deportation if they cannot justify seeking asylum in Mexico.
Dressed in riot gear, police arrived along a southern highway in several buses, ahead of the throngs of men, women and children marching north after they crossed the Guatemalan border.
An unidentified police officer told Reuters there were no orders to block the caravan.
"We're just making sure they pass safely and then we'll steer them" to a migrants shelter outside the city center of Tapachula, about 32km north-west of the border.
As a military helicopter circled overhead, migrants who said they were fleeing a toxic mix of violence, poverty and corruption in Central America wondered if police would seek to turn the caravan back.
Most said they felt safer advancing as part of a large group.
"We're going to make it, we're going to keep moving so long as they don't stop us," said Honduran Jaffe Borjas, 17, marching alongside a childhood friend at the head of the column that stretched far down the highway to the horizon.
The multitude of migrants clogged the highway leading north from the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, many breaking into song.
"If you send us back, we will return!" a large crowd shouted in unison under the intense glare of the morning sun.
"We are not criminals, we are workers!"
Mr Trump has threatened to halt aid to Honduras and Guatemala, and potentially close the US border with Mexico with the help of the military if the migrants' march is not stopped.
Mexico's government has said throughout the past week that it would register the migrants and process requests for asylum. Those attempting to skip the process would face deportation, but the size of the caravan will test Mexico, which has sought help from the United Nations to manage the issue.
Encamped for two nights using backpacks for pillows and tents made of trash bags on a long bridge between Guatemala and Mexico, the migrant caravan began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last week and grew exponentially as it passed through Guatemala.
Last Saturday, Mexican immigration authorities allowed only some 640 migrants through the official border crossing on a bridge spanning the Suchiate River.
The slow pace of legal processing prompted thousands to cross the river illegally by raft or swimming, according to local officials and migrant organisers.