The group of mostly young men and some small children were met by a large roadblock of Guatemalan authorities after the country’s President Alejandro Giammattei promised Thursday to detain and return anyone who entered illegally.
“We will not allow any foreigner who has used illegal means to enter the country, to think that they have the right to come and infect us [with coronavirus] and put us at serious risk,” Giammattei said in a broadcast address to the nation.
None of the 1,000 or so migrants who had been stalled by police and soldiers remained along the stretch of rural highway by 5 a.m. Saturday, The Associated Press reported.
Hours earlier, migrants had boarded buses and army trucks to be taken back to the border, police said.
Authorities had planned to register the migrants as they crossed earlier Thursday and offer assistance to those willing to turn back, but the group crossed the border at Corinto without registering, initially pushing past outnumbered Guatemalan police and soldiers who made little attempt to stop them. They later met the roadblock near San Luis Peten.
Within hours of the border crossing, Guatemalan authorities reported the first migrant death. A person tried to climb aboard a moving flatbed trailer but fell under its wheels. Authorities did not immediately provide any additional details.
Many of the migrants didn’t make it far into Guatemala before having to stop. Soon, they strung out in small groups for miles along the highway, as some caught rides and others walked under the hot sun.
In one group were four teenagers, all friends and neighbors from San Pedro Sula, from which hundreds of migrants had set out together. The teens decided to leave after seeing others organize on Facebook.
The youngest, 15-year-old Josty Morales, told the AP he wanted to live the “American dream” and was looking for a way to support his 6-month-old son at home.
“There’s no work,” he said. “The necessity strangles you.”
On Friday, more than 100 Guatemalan soldiers and police blocked the migrants, who became increasingly frustrated with the lack of food and forward movement after walking from Honduras earlier this week.
Migrants’ pleaded with authorities to either let them through or provide them food.
Some of the original 2,000 migrants voluntarily agreed to return to Honduras, Guatemalan immigration authorities said.
Other migrants also split off the main route and headed for Guatemala City either by walking or catching a ride.
While Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested Friday the migrants were walking to the U.S. to affect the American presidential election, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said, Mexico is “morally, legally and politically obliged to help them.” He said they don’t represent a coronavirus risk.
Last year, President Trump threatened massive tariffs on Mexican imports if authorities didn’t slow the flow of migrants to the border. Mexico responded by deploying the National Guard and more immigration agents to intercept large groups of migrants.
Fox News’ Greg Norman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.