Migrants depart from El Salvador as new U.S.-bound caravan forms


SAN SALVADOR/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - At least 150 Salvadoran migrants departed in a group for the United States on Wednesday, the latest in a string of such 'caravans' that U.S. President Donald Trump has used to build his case for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The group, organised through social media, is following in the wake of a larger caravan that departed from Honduras this week.

On Wednesday morning, between 900 and 1,000 Hondurans gathered at the country's border with Guatemala, waiting to cross en-route to the United States, local police chief Jorge Rodriguez told Reuters.

Several hundred Honduran migrants already entered Guatemala on Tuesday, according to activists travelling with them.

Caravans from Central America have inflamed the debate over U.S. immigration policy, with Trump pointing at the migrants to try to win backing for his border security plan.

The U.S. government has been partially shut down for over three weeks as Democrats resist Trump's demand that Congress provide $5.7 billion to fund a border wall.

In El Salvador, Jose Sorto, 30, said violence drove him to leave his home. Three years ago, he said, he was attacked by the Barrio 18 gang.

"I joined the caravan because here you can't live in peace. I have to run away and hide every day," said Sorto, who is unemployed and lives in the town of Ilobasco, about 56 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of the capital.

In the United States, he said, he hopes to "live quietly and work to buy a house for my mom."

Walking through the streets carrying backpacks and water bottles, the migrants were escorted by immigration authorities and the police.

El Salvador is grappling with a wave of crime and violence. In 2018, the country's murder rate stood at 50.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest levels in the world, according to the United Nations.

The Salvadoran government estimates that some 2,700 people have left the country through half a dozen caravans over the past year. About 600 have returned voluntarily, and three have died, according to government figures.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; writing by Julia Love, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)