Poverty, not politics, spurs migrants on in caravan: Reporter’s Notebook

ABC News has been on the road for four days with migrants journeying north.

Huixtla, Mexico -- ABC News has been on the road for four days with the more than 7,000 migrants making their way north to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of safety and a better life.

Images show the sheer number -- and desperation -- these people face. Many are fleeing the violence that has torn apart their home countries, or hoping for the chance at a better life making minimum wage in the United States. Among them are small children, pregnant women and people with disabilities. They walk all day, sleeping in on the ground, enduring blistered feet, dehydration and hunger, stopping to relieve themselves where they can.

Every day is overwhelming. But unlike any other place these migrants have been, the impoverished town of Huixtla at least offered a few battered portable toilets. There are about 10 toilets for the more than 7,000 migrants estimated to be here. The stench is so searing that people waiting in the very long line to use it cover their faces with bandanas, or their shirts, or even the toilet paper they are about to use.

Compared to the rest of what these migrants have endured, this is a small indignity. People collapsed everywhere along the route. On Monday, we passed the body of a man crushed when he fell off the truck he was riding on. The sheet couldn’t cover all the blood on the asphalt. Thousands of migrants had to walk right by the 22-year old’s body. On Tuesday, the migrants rested in Huixtla after marching 52 miles in two days.

They are fleeing poverty, some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and neighborhoods controlled by violent gangs. The majority of migrants on the caravan are from Honduras, where more than 64 percent live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

In addition to gang violence, dissidents, minorities and LGBTQ people have been the subject of political violence in Honduras. Last year's presidential election in the country was marred by widespread reports of fraud and a violent crackdown on protesters. The Central American nation has also struggled with one of the highest murder rates outside of a war zone in the world.

Many told us they can’t go on. It’s too hot. Their bodies can’t take it. The town of Huixtla was overwhelmed, too. Described as a "small, poor town" by a city official, it has been shuttered for much of the past two days. The town center’s elevated sidewalks were littered with flattened cardboard boxes turned into meager mattresses. Migrants sprawled on sidewalks too narrow to accommodate bodies, so limbs dangled out over the street. The sprawl of bodies radiated out from the town square where a tent encampment had been set up.

The town's government, headed by a young internal affairs director, Bernardo Castaneda, threw itself into helping them. In addition to the portable toilets, the town put up tents it normally uses for festivals to shelter migrants from the tropical sun and its companion, the evening rain. Trucks rolled around throughout the day distributing food.

Local charities spent most of Monday making 5,000 sandwiches, cooking soup, and roasting chickens. Their generosity is humbling: clear plastic bags full of milk, water, bread, tortillas and chicken were distributed to hungry people. The migrants swept up their makeshift living areas, and municipal workers collected them as mountains of trash formed.

Within hours of the migrants' arrival, medics in the town ran out of medicines to hand out. Local Red Cross workers sat on the back bumpers of their ambulances the next day, swabbing hundreds of feet for festering blisters, foot rot, sprains and infected wounds. There is constant grime that builds around one’s neck and in every other crevice and bend of the body, and many suffer from angry red rashes from the heat.

There is no definitive census of the number of children in the caravan, but there must be hundreds. Some spent the day doing what the adults around likely wish they could do: scream out in rage and frustration at the heat, the inability to find comfort on the concrete, and the crushing prospect of 1,500 more miles of conditions like this. Having spent days with these people, what stands out is a remarkable duality: the soul-sapping discomfort, and the will to go on.

On Wednesday, it’s another 25 miles to the next town.

Mexican authorities have drawn a very faint line in the sand, demanding that the migrants apply for asylum before they exit the southern state of Chiapas or face deportation. But it could be days before they get leave Chiapas.

Even then, many here wonder what the logistics would look like. How do you round up that many people? What if they resist? What happens to families with children? There seem to be no answers to those questions.

The caravan's organizers continue to insist this that it’s not politics but poverty and murder that propel this group onward. ABC News spoke to some of the people making the journey and trying to help. These are their stories.

Maria Lucia Vigil Bardales and her daughter, Meylin Bardales, 2

Migrants from San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Meylin Bardales' mother made the decision in a day to join the caravan so she could find work. She said that she had to leave her 13-year-old behind to make the journey. "Leaving my family behind is the hardest part," Maria Lucia Vigil Bardales said.

Ann Louisa

Migrant from Guatemala City, Guatemala

"Not all of us that are fleeing are bad."

Monserrat, 4, and Emily, 2

Migrants traveling with their father from San Pedro Sula, Honduras

"I’ve left for violence and security," the girls' father, who did not give us his name, said. "The journey is very hard because of the sun." He also said the journey has caused "emotional problems" for the children, who are unaccustomed to this life.

Gadiel Gutierrez, 16

Resident of Huixtla, Mexico

"All we can do is welcome them and have empathy," Gutierrez said of the migrants who are sleeping in his town before moving further north.

Astrid Daniella Aguilar, 18, and Kenssy Roque, 16

Migrants from Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The girls are best friends traveling in the caravan together. Sitting on a staircase in Huixtla's central square, they entertained each other by applying cheap, bright lipstick. Both said that at home, the schools have no books, there's no medicine and no work.

"Walking is the hardest part," Aguilar said. "I think I will see my parents again. I don’t know when."

When we asked about her parents, Aguilar told us her father is in the hospital after being stabbed. She said he was mugged for his phone and some money on his way to work, part of the violence endemic to Tegucigalpa. Both girls said their biggest concern during this trip is being sexually assaulted.

Cesar Mejia, 23

Migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras

"I was discriminated and beat up so it was time to go," Mejia said of his decision to leave Honduras, where anti-LGBTQ violence is prevalent.

"At first I was afraid to wear the (rainbow) flag. I didn’t know how people would react. In Guatemala, people were asking me what country the flag was and I told them it was the flag of the world," he said. "If I had the opportunity to make it to the border, I could show my representation of the community and ask for asylum because there is a lot less discrimination than Honduras."

Kimberley Olivares, 20, and Muñeca

Migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras

"I brought him because he's part of the family," Olivares said of her three-month-old puppy.

Belem Moreno, 25

Volunteer with Mexican Red Cross

"I’ve been treating people for open sores on their feet, heat exhaustion, fainting, convulsions, stomach pains, and children who have fallen and have burns on their feet," Moreno said. She said this is the largest group she has treated at one time.

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