Mexico slowly processes caravan migrants at Guatemala border

A group of Central American migrants wade across the Suchiate River, on the the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (AP) — Mexican authorities for a second straight day Saturday refused mass entry to a caravan of Central American migrants held up at the border with Guatemala, but began accepting small groups for asylum processing and gave out some 45-day visitor permits that would theoretically allow recipients time to reach the United States.

Seeking to maintain order after a chaotic Friday in which thousands rushed across the border bridge only to be halted by a phalanx of officers in riot gear, authorities began handing out numbers for people to be processed in a strategy seen before at U.S. border posts when large numbers of migrants show up there.

Once they were processed, migrants were bused to an open-air, metal-roofed fairground in the nearby city of Tapachula, where the Red Cross set up small blue tents on the concrete floor. Easily 3,000 people or more the previous day, the crowd on the bridge thinned out noticeably.

But the slow pace frustrated those stuck on the bridge, where conditions were hot and cramped, and some pleaded at the main gate: "Please let us in, we want to work!" Behind it, workers erected tall steel riot barriers to channel people in an orderly fashion.

Each time a small side gate opened to allow small groups in for processing, there was a crush of bodies as migrants desperately pushed forward.

Scarleth Cruz hoisted a crying, sweat-soaked baby girl above the crowd, crying out: "This girl is suffocating."

Cruz was among the many who appeared willing to accept any kind of migratory relief Mexico might offer. Cruz, 20, said she was going to ask for political asylum because of threats and repression she faced back in Honduras from President Juan Orlando Hernandez's governing party.

"Why would I want to go to the United States if I'm going to be persecuted" there as well, she said.