So many migrants have stopped in the southern Mexican town of Mapastepec in recent months that longstanding public sympathy for Central Americans traveling northward is starting to wane.
Hundreds of migrants have been camped out for weeks in Mapastepec, where locals say six migrant caravans have arrived since last Easter. By far the biggest was a group of thousands in October that drew the anger of US President Donald Trump.
Ana Gabriela Galvan, a local resident who helped to provide food to migrants in the October caravan, told Reuters the small town in the impoverished state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, felt overwhelmed by the number of Central Americans.
“It's really bad, because they're pouring onto our land,” she said, noting that some locals were reluctant to leave their homes. “They ask for money, and if you offer food, they don't want it; they want money and sometimes you don't have any.”
Following a surge in apprehensions of Central Americans trying to enter the United States, Trump last month threatened to close the US-Mexico border if the Mexican government did not stop illegal immigration right away.
The administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has stepped up migrant detentions and tightened access to humanitarian visas, slowing the flow of caravans north and leaving hundreds of people in Mapastepec.
The humanitarian visas allow migrants to stay temporarily and get jobs. The documents also make it easier for them to travel through the country or seek longer residence.
According to government social development agency Coneval, Chiapas in 2015 had the highest poverty rate of Mexico's 32 regions, at 72.5 percent. Some 20,000 people live in Mapastepec, the seat of a municipality of the same name where poverty levels were fractionally higher than the state average in 2015.
A month ago, a large knot of migrants began forming inMapastepec when the National Migration Institute closed its main office in the nearby city of Tapachula. The closure prompted hundreds to travel north to the sweltering town on the Pacific coast where the agency has a smaller outpost.
Since then, bedraggled groups of men, women and children have been staying in and around a local sports stadium, hoping to be issued humanitarian visas.
A Central American migrant is detained by a Federal Police officer in Mapastepec, Mexico. (Reuters)
Central Americans today make up the bulk of undocumented migrants arrested on the US border.
Southern Mexico has long sent thousands of migrants north and support for them has traditionally been strong there.