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Mexico Ups Southern Border Security To Keep Out Migrant Caravan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States is not the only country debating how to protect its southern border. Mexico, the country to the south, is also trying to secure its southern border, the border with Guatemala. Authorities are sending soldiers, immigration agents and federal police there. They are aiming to stop a caravan of migrants who are hoping to leave Central America and, in some cases, cross through Mexico on to the United States. James Fredrick reports from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Twenty-three-year-old Honduran Daisy Cruz, who says she's fleeing an abusive gang member boyfriend, crossed into Mexico two weeks ago. But then on Thursday, she turned around after making a decision to head back south towards the border with Guatemala to join a rally for the migrant caravan.

DAISY CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says she came to support her fellow Hondurans, to be here so they don't feel alone. Cruz joined about 50 other migrants and activists in Ciudad Hidalgo, a town that sits on the Mexico-Guatemala border. But police and activists soon clashed, and chaos broke out, as you can hear in this cellphone video from the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

FREDRICK: In the video, police grab Irenio Mujica, a Mexican-American migrant activist who helped organize a similar migrant caravan in the spring that first sparked President Trump's ire. Federal Police allege Mujica previously vandalized an immigration vehicle. As migrants tried to stop Mujica's arrest, Cruz said police got rough with everyone, even women and children.

CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says an officer told her to shut up then pointed a gun at her 7-year-old and threatened to kill him. Two others present during the incident corroborated her story. A spokesman for Mexico's federal police tells NPR he was not aware of that specific incident and says activists initiated the aggression. The clash in the Mexican border town is a foreboding sign of what is to come as the caravan of thousands gets closer. Dozens of federal police in riot gear have already been stationed on the bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala. Mexico's human rights commission came to Ciudad Hidalgo to try and head off the tensions. The group's spokesman Edgar Corzo Sosa says he wants Mexican police to keep one thing in mind as the caravan approaches.

EDGAR CORZO SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "If we're fighting for the rights of Mexicans to be respected in the U.S.," he says, "the least we can do is respect the rights of our Central American brothers and sisters here in Mexico." While most are still on their way, about 400 migrants from the caravan are already just across the border in the Guatemalan town of Tecun Uman.

It's a peaceful scene compared to the clashes next door in Mexico. Families relax in the shade, chatting and laughing, eating and drinking donated food and water. Daniela Reyes, a 29-year-old single mother of four who says her family is fleeing gang violence, doesn't want any trouble with authorities.

DANIELA REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says, "we come with a spirit of peace with no intention to use violence. Nothing like that. We're just looking for a better life." But as things stand now, Reyes, her children and the other migrants will be met by force at the Mexican border. For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.