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Why This Family Left Central America And Joined The Migrant Caravan

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to meet a family now that has walked more than 500 miles from Honduras to southern Mexico. They are two of the thousands of migrants who have formed a caravan to travel north with hopes of reaching the U.S. President Trump has called them an assault on the country and threatened to send the military to the border. But these families are undeterred, as James Fredrick reports from the Mexican state of Chiapas.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: After only a few days in the migrant caravan, 28-year-old Beti, who asked that we only use her first name because of threats against her, faced a difficult choice. She had come determined to reach the U.S. and seek asylum.

BETI: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says, "I came with my two brothers and a sister-in-law." But as Mexican forces blocked the bridge into that country, her family said they were leaving the caravan. One brother turned around, deciding he could make it in the meantime in Honduras. Her other brother and sister-in-law had family send them money, and they paid smugglers to take them to the U.S. But it cost $8,000, and the family didn't have enough money for Beti and her 5-year-old son, Justin.

BETI: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "It's really hard," she says. "We don't have a mom. She died. It's hard to see your brothers leave you, choose a sister-in-law over you." Beti and Justin were alone but not for long.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: On a bridge, they met this family - a grandmother, her two daughters and several children. They took her and Justin in, a sort of caravan family, and the Guatemala border is now well behind them. Right now they're stringing up black tarps above a cardboard floor they've laid in the central park of this little town, Huixtla. Here, you really get an idea of how thousands of people can survive walking across Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: That's a radio spot from the local government of Huixtla, a town of about 30,000. It asks citizens to bring donations of food, water and clothing. For hours, locals have been streaming in, getting the migrants almost everything they need. The kids here are surprisingly happy and upbeat after another 20-mile trek in 90-degree heat today.

(LAUGHTER)

FREDRICK: Justin and his new caravan friends are obsessed with my mic and headphones. Finding this family to travel with was a saving grace for Beti and Justin.

BETI: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "It's good," she says. "We felt like turning back after my brothers left me." But they knew they could continue north once they met the other family. Going back to Honduras, she says, is not an option.

BETI: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: As Beti explains, she had a tortilla shop back in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. Five different gangs were extorting her, and she owed them 500 lempiras a week, about $20. That was nearly half of what her shop made. And the gang's threats if she didn't pay - they'd take Justin.

BETI: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "The pain is so huge," she says. "The kids suffer." But she says they can't go back to Honduras even though she's heard about families being separated at the U.S. border. Right now Justin seems to be having fun on this epic trek north. He's bouncing around with his friends, his mouth stained blue from a lollipop locals were handing out to kids.

BETI: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says, "I'll cradle him for a while as we walk because he gets tired. I don't care. I'll carry him as far as we have to go." The caravan keeps Beti and Justin safe, gives them a sense of family they lost a few days ago. It brings out locals with donations. It's the only way she could imagine making it to the U.S. For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Huixtla, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.