There’s a bustling trade in people and goods across the Guatemala-Mexico river border this week. But almost the entire flow of people skirts the route across the road bridge and tries to avoid official eyes by floating across the water.
Makeshift rafts of wood and truck inner tubes carry families across the Suchiate River – most of them getting set to cross yet another country as they aim for the United States and hopes of a better life.
They are part of a continuing surge of travelers impacting towns and cities in Mexico, which announced new measures this month, as well as in the US.
Crossings cost about US$1.50 a person, said Javier Guillen, though rates surge to $20 a head for a more dangerous night-time trip. And sometimes the fares must be paid in US currency.
Guillen, a trained chef, said he felt “a little calmer” having reached Mexico. Marchan added: “We are almost there, but also scared because they say Mexico is a little dangerous.”
The couple, tired but still hopeful of reaching friends living in Alexandria, Virginia, chatted on the dusty Mexican side of the Suchiate where many migrants have made camp.
Laundry washed in the river they had just crossed hangs from string tied between trees, and entrepreneurs arrive to sell food to anyone who still has money.
While they had used the unofficial inner-tube ferries to reach Mexico, they said they would be heading to government offices soon to seek asylum or permission to transit the country to go on to the US.
The migrants from the riverbank will head to Tapachula – an hour’s drive or a day’s walk from the border. Mexican officials estimate there are already 15,000 to 17,000 migrants in Tapachula, waiting for papers or aid to get back on the road north.
Migrant crossings along the US-Mexico border are rising, surpassing 8,600 over a 24-hour period last week, according to a Department of Homeland Security official. That’s up from around 3,500 daily border arrests after the expiration of Title 42 in May triggered new consequences for those who cross the border illegally.
Mexico said about 77,000 migrants applied for asylum there last year and the number could double this year.
The scene at the river supports that expectation. Even as few vehicles used the Rodolfo Robles bridge, the ferrymen went back and forth, back and forth, each time bringing more and more people to Mexico.