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Caravan Of Migrants Continues Toward U.S. Border

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A group of migrants is moving slowly through Mexico toward the U.S. border, this as President Trump plans to move roughly 5,000 troops to that border. At rallies for Republican candidates, the president has explicitly put the distant caravan at the center of the election campaign - an election theme he continued last night on Fox.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thousands and thousands of people on the bridge - when you looked at that bridge loaded up with people, that's called an invasion of our country.

INSKEEP: The president was apparently referring to a bridge more than 1,000 miles outside the United States. With that said, there is a group of several thousand migrants, and there are varying descriptions of the group's size and purpose. So let's check on the latest facts. Yesterday on this program, we heard from Mexico's ambassador to the United States, who said the group was smaller than otherwise reported - about 3,500 people, he said, with some of them accepting asylum offers to stay in Mexico. We've next called journalist David Agren, who was recently with the group, to ask what the proper number could be.

DAVID AGREN: Nobody knows for sure. Obviously, the official number that was given at the time last week was 3,600 with - and just yesterday, the interior minister said about 1,895 people had applied for asylum; another 500 had asked to go home voluntarily. Mayors along the route had put the number at closer to 6,000. And that was just based because - on the number of people that they were serving because they are obviously providing a lot of food and obviously assistance for the migrants. So nobody knows for sure, but it would probably be higher than that.

INSKEEP: OK. So it may be higher than 3,500, according to the best information that you have. I guess the next question is, how many are truly determined to pass on to the United States given that they have this Mexican offer of asylum?

AGREN: Everyone that I spoke with was determined to reach the United States. Of all the people I spoke with, only two said they were interested in staying in Mexico. One person couldn't cross the border and just wanted to be closer to his U.S. children. The others were wanting to work in northern Mexico.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that you did not encounter very many people accepting this offer of asylum. The Mexican authorities have given a fairly substantial number of people who have accepted the offer. Could it be that you would not have run into those people because they've already left the caravan?

AGREN: That's possible. I mean, one thing I came across, for example, in one city, the city of Huitzila (ph) that was closer to the border with Guatemala, people - I remember the mayor saying that they had 80 people who had accepted trips to go home again, voluntary repatriation. And among that group, it was people who had just found that their children were unable to continue with the trip. But it just seems like those numbers - in every destination when we would ask, the mayors would say it's just a small number. It was always less than - usually less than a hundred that would take up this offer of leaving the trip.

INSKEEP: And what makes them determined to reach the United States as opposed to safety in Mexico?

AGREN: Interesting question. Everyone says that in the United States, they can get ahead faster. People - they cite multiple factors for leaving - violence, poverty and also family reunification. So there's a combination of people that their parents or their children are in the United States, and they want to reach them and see them again. They hadn't seen them for years. In some cases, the appeal of the U.S. - they will say sueno Americano - the ability to make in an hour in the United States what they would make maybe in a day in Honduras or even more. And also, Mexico itself is, at times, not always the safest place.

INSKEEP: Reporter David Agren, thanks so much.

AGREN: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.