MEXICO CITY (AP) — Almost 4,000 Central American migrants prepared to depart a stadium in southern Mexico City early Saturday for the longest and most dangerous leg of a trek to the U.S. border that has drawn fire from President Donald Trump.
The bulk of the caravan will follow the roughly 900 migrants who left Mexico City on Friday, and many were impatient to get going after having spent much of the week in the sports complex.
"Let's go, let's go!" shouted Eddy Rivera, 37, a rail-thin migrant from Honduras who said he couldn't take staying in the camp any longer.
"We are all sick, from the humidity and the cold," said Rivera, who left behind four children and a wife in Honduras. "We have to get going; we have to get to Tijuana."
Though he was unsure how an unskilled farmworker like himself would be allowed in the United States, he had a simple dream: earn enough money to build a little house for his family back in Puerto Cortes, Honduras.
The migrants' plan was to take a subway to the northern part of Mexico's capital, then proceed first to the city of Queretaro, followed by Guadalajara, Culiacan and Hermosillo until the migrants arrive in Tijuana on the U.S. border, said Nashieli Ramirez, director of Mexico's Human Rights Commission.
Ramirez said that 90 percent of the at least 4,000 migrants remaining in Mexico City would depart before dawn Saturday and that 400 had decided to stay in Mexico.
Queretaro Gov. Francisco Dominguez said the migrants would stay at the Corregidora stadium in the state's capital, also called Queretaro, and that authorities were ready to host 4,000 people.
For many, it will be the first time they have ever been in a metro system, and they have little knowledge of the city or the 1,740 mile (2,800 kilometer) route to Tijuana that lies ahead of them. Drug cartels and gangs operate in many parts of northern Mexico.
Ramirez said that along the route state human rights commissions would form a "chain of protection" for the caravan.
Thousands of migrants have spent the past few days in Mexico City resting, receiving medical attention and debating how to proceed with their arduous trek through Central America and Mexico which began in mid-October.
Organizers had demanded buses to take them to the U.S. border, but no offers have come to fruition so far to the frustration of the migrants.
The migrants made a big point of sticking together, their only form of self-protection.
Felix Rodriguez, 35, of Choluteca, Honduras had been at the Mexico City sports complex for more than a week.
"We all want to get moving," he said. But he was waiting for the main group to leave Saturday, noting "it is better to leave in a group, because leaving in small bunches is dangerous."
Mexico City is more than 600 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing at McAllen, Texas, but the area around the Mexican border cities of Reynosa, Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo is so rife with drug gangs that the migrants consider it too dangerous to risk. While still dangerous, the route to California is considered safer.
A previous caravan in the spring opted for the longer route to Tijuana in the far northwest, across from San Diego. That caravan steadily dwindled to only about 200 people by the time it reached the border.
Mexico has offered refuge, asylum or work visas to the migrants, and its government said 2,697 temporary visas had been issued to individuals and families to cover them while they wait for the 45-day application process for a more permanent status. On Wednesday, a bus left from Mexico City to return 37 people to their countries of origin.
But many want to continue on toward the United States.
About 85 percent of the migrants are from Honduras, while others are from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The caravan became a campaign issue in U.S. midterms election and Trump has ordered the deployment of over 5,000 military troops to the border to fend off the migrants. Trump has also threatened to make attaining asylum even more difficult and to detain applicants in tent cities.