TAPACHULA, Mexico — Rosalin Guillermo climbed through a hole in the fence of the bridge and took hold of the ladder.
The solid, hard concrete of the crossing held no promise of a future for her. Instead, she’d decided it was better to be lowered down, down to the fast-moving waters of the Suchiate River where people pulled her onto a raft of wood and inner tubes.
There she’d watched as her children — one as young as 3 — were gripped by strangers to follow her on the same journey from apparent order and safety to seeming uncertainty and peril.
It was so different from 24 hours earlier when the mother was at the front of the line of the thousands of Central Americans in the so-called migrant caravan as they waited to leave Guatemala on their journey north — aiming first for Mexico and then, perhaps for some, the United States.
After the caravan formed in Honduras and gathered strength on the weeklong hike across her native Guatemala, Guillermo tells me she sold everything, gathered her three children and decided to “complete my dream” of moving to the United States.
“I want them to study, have a good future,” she says, touching the heads of her children. “My husband is dead so I do this for my kids. I ask you with all my heart, wouldn’t your mother do the same for you?”
The small family was at the front of the pack when the caravan crashed through the Guatemalan gates and rushed across the bridge to Mexico.
During the melee, Guillermo and her 3-year-old son, Carlitos, were pulled inside the Mexican line. When order was restored, a kindhearted officer let the little boy play with his riot helmet and it appeared that they would be among the lucky few allowed through the gates for processing.
But her 5-year-old daughter had become separated and was caught on the other side. Guillermo had to go back to find Candy.
As Mexican officials stopped the flow across the bridge to a relative trickle, most of the caravan detoured back to Guatemala to swim the river or buy a ride on the flotilla of inner tube rafts that serve as water taxis to the porous border town of Ciudad Hidalgo.
Guillermo calculated that her best chance would be to hold her place near the front of the line but when they ran out of food a day later, she decided to follow the young men who had pried a hole in the bridge fence and jumped into the shallow Rio Suchiete. With borrowed rope and a ladder, the teens fashioned the crudest of elevators and one at a time, lowered the Guillermo family to a waiting raft.
“This bridge, this river, they can’t stop me,” she says as she reaches the Mexican river bank. “I am an all-terrain woman.”
Guillermo has no passport. Unlike many other caravan members, she is not fleeing the violence of drug cartels or the political oppression of the Honduran government so it is unlikely that she will qualify for refugee status if she ever reaches the United States.
On Sunday, as the caravan marched north through southern Mexico with official numbers topping 7,000, President Trump tweeted another promise to turn them away. While there may be strength and safety in numbers, the sight of so many migrants marching north only serves as visual red meat for Trump and his supporters who are convinced by the claim that they are an invading horde, “full of hardened criminals.”
“We did not come to rob or kill anyone,” Guillermo says. “All we want to do is work and start a new life.”
She has heard of President Trump’s threats and his “zero tolerance” policy of family separations. According to unpublished Department of Homeland Security statistics obtained by The Washington Post, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested 16,658 family members in September, the highest one-month total on record and an 80 percent jump since “zero tolerance” was suspended in July. Trump has hinted that he might bring it back just as Guillermo, Carlitos, Candy and Guillermo’s older son Miner, reach northern Mexico.
“I know about this,” she says. “But I have faith in God. He has the final word.”
The migrant trail through Mexico will have people walking through jungles and across deserts, hopping freight trains and dodging brutal gangs.
The people around Guillermo have been on the road for 10 days and still have over 2,000 miles to go.
The eventual success of the “caravana migrantes” may rest in the hands of politicians in Washington and Mexico City, but no one should doubt the grit and determination shown by Rosalin Guillermo and the Central Americans heading north.