Thousands of migrants from Honduras have entered Guatemala and plan to continue north to the United States, potentially posing an early test of the immigration policies of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has pledged to ease the Trump administration’s restrictions on asylum.
After a few hundred people were able to push past the border police on Friday, thousands more followed into Guatemala on Saturday. Officials have said that between 7,000 and 9,000 people entered the country, many bypassing coronavirus checks.
The government of Guatemala said that it “regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on Central American governments to take actions to avoid putting their inhabitants, as well as the communities through which these people pass, at risk in the face of the pandemic.”
The migrants are expected to face continued obstacles along their route. The Guatemalan authorities set up checkpoints, blocked parts of the caravan not far from where it entered Guatemala and could begin returning some of the migrants home by bus, The Associated Press reported.
The Mexican authorities have posted additional troops and immigration officers along the country’s southern border in anticipation of the caravan.
“In our national territory, we have to guarantee orderly, safe and regular migration, with respect for human rights and humanitarian policies,” Francisco Garduño Yáñez, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said in a statement on Friday.
Members of the group told reporters they were driven to escape crime, poverty and homelessness exacerbated by the pandemic and two hurricanes late last year.
“We have nothing to feed to our children, and thousands of us were left sleeping on the streets,” Maria Jesus Paz, a mother of four children, told the Reuters news agency. She said her family had lost their home in the storms, forcing them to flee.
“This is why we make this decision, even though we know that the journey could cost us our lives,” she added.
The back-to-back hurricanes that hit Central America in November “destroyed livelihoods in a region that was already facing an economic crisis and where the incomes of thousands of families had already been seriously reduced due to the pandemic,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday.
The Trump administration made a series of deals with Mexico and Central American countries to bar migrants from reaching the United States. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said on Saturday that Guatemala was continuing to enforce that agreement.
“Guatemala continues to support the regional alliance committed to safe, orderly, and legal migration and protect public health during the global pandemic,” Mr. Morgan said on Twitter. Guatemala’s immigration agency “is already returning caravan members to Honduras after they illegally entered Guatemala.”
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden has said he would move quickly to undo the tougher restrictions on asylum enacted by the Trump administration, which disqualified people who did not seek protection on their way to the United States and forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.
But last month, Mr. Biden, in an effort to avert a rush for the border, said such changes could not be put in place immediately after he takes office and that his administration would need “probably the next six months” to develop a more “humane policy” for processing migrants.
“It will get done and it will get done quickly, but it’s not going to be able to be done on Day 1,” Mr. Biden said.