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Trump Threatens Southern Border Shutdown Over Migrant Caravan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to the Guatemala-Mexico border - that is where thousands of migrants fleeing Central America for refuge in the United States have been massed and where today they broke through an immigration barrier and tried to enter Mexico from Guatemala. Mexican security forces appealed for order and then fired tear gas to drive the migrants back. President Trump has already weighed in. He's thanked Mexico for its efforts to stop the so-called caravan. He has also said he will close the U.S. border to these migrants. Well, let's bring in reporter James Fredrick, who is there in Guatemala.

Hi, James.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So just yesterday you were describing to me a relatively calm scene at the border, a lot of security but migrants who were massed a few minutes away from the border. What happened today?

FREDRICK: This group of migrants that has now grown to thousands - we don't know exactly how many. But thousands of migrants now decided they were going to march to this bridge that connects Guatemala and Mexico. And they said they were going to try to enter Mexico today.

It was a very chaotic scene. But you know, if I can just try to summarize it as quickly as possible, they were at this fence blocking them from leaving Guatemala. They got through that fence. Thousands of people started walking across this bridge into Mexico. Mexico had closed a big metal gate to them. It had dozens of federal police officers in riot gear waiting for this caravan. Then - I wasn't close enough to see what happened. But then the Mexican gate opened briefly. We heard shots that turned out mostly to be tear gas that they were using against the migrants. And then the gate shut again. It was a really chaotic scene.

And let's hear from this father who was near the front of the caravan with his two young kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: So what he said was that he went to the front with his children because they thought they were going to let families and children cross first. Then this chaos broke out. He had to pour water in his children's eyes. They got tear-gassed. It was just really chaotic. There were several children who had lost their families. It was a really rough scene.

KELLY: Speaking of a really chaotic scene, I can hear a lot of noise behind you, James. Where exactly are you?

FREDRICK: So I'm back on the Guatemalan side of the border but still right here near the bridge. And several of the migrants, a couple hundred so far, have drifted back into Guatemala. I'm sitting right next to a couple of cots from the Guatemalan Red Cross. They're treating people, mostly people who are really dehydrated. I mean, there's a young boy laying on the cot now. He's probably 4 years old, has a cold rag on his head. So Guatemalan authorities are trying to treat people who they said suffered a lot of heat stroke and dehydration as well as some people who actually suffered broken bones in the clash with Mexican police.

KELLY: And as you talk to these people, what do they say their next move is? Are they going to try again? I mean, it does not sound as though Mexico is inclined to let them cross this border and cross this bridge.

FREDRICK: A lot of people I talked to said we aren't going to leave this bridge. What they are requesting is for Mexico to let them in as asylum-seekers. And so they - many of them say, we are not going to leave this bridge. We're going to block the bridge until Mexico lets us in. Given the clashes today, Mexico has totally closed this border. You know, I tried to get back into Mexico and was not able to. It's closed to everyone. So it's really up in the air what they're going to do. But everyone I talked to said, no, we are not turning around; we are not going home.

KELLY: In the seconds we have left, James, I mentioned that President Trump is threatening to close the U.S. border if this caravan does manage to make it across Mexico and advance. Getting to the U.S. is the goal of these people. Are they aware of the president's position?

FREDRICK: They are aware that Trump does not want to let them into the country. But what they say over and over again is, we know that's his stance; but we are asking, we are pleading for help because, you know, what is back at home is worse than whatever Trump can put in front of us.

KELLY: All right. Thank you, James.

FREDRICK: Thank you.

KELLY: That is James Fredrick reporting from the Guatemala-Mexico border.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERBIE HANCOCK SONG, "TRUST ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.