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Central American Migrants Traveling Toward The U.S. Say They Won't Give Up

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Central American migrant caravan is now in its fourth week traveling through Mexico towards the U.S. border. It's been a brutal journey with migrants often walking more than 20 miles a day in scorching heat and relying on the goodwill of people in small towns to survive. Despite President Trump's threats to limit asylum at the southern border, some migrants resume their journey north today, and thousands have stopped to rest in Mexico City. That's where reporter James Fredrick caught up with the exhausted migrants.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Every day in Mexico has been a struggle for Kelly Zelaya, a 31-year-old Honduran traveling alone in the caravan.

KELLY ZELAYA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says for the last 20 days, she's suffered from a cough, flu symptoms, fever and exhaustion.

ZELAYA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "Sometimes we had to run or walk really fast," she says. "And that really hurt me. I can't walk for very long." Zelaya and nearly 5,000 other migrants are getting much-needed rest in Mexico City, where authorities have set up a massive aid operation and camp at a 6,000-seat football stadium. Here families lay out on makeshift cots under massive tents covering the field while others sprawl out on the bleachers. Off to the sides, hundreds wait in line for food, showers and medical care. In one corner, a group of teens play soccer next to little kids hopping around in a bouncy castle.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Screaming).

FREDRICK: Mexico City has coordinated several government agencies, 50 NGOs and more than 300 volunteers to care for the migrants. Dozens of doctors and nurses from public hospitals and the Red Cross provided much-needed care and medication. Far from the baseless claims made by conservative outlets that the migrant caravan was bringing smallpox, leprosy and tuberculosis with it, members of the migrant caravan are suffering from quite common illnesses given their circumstances, says Ruben Rodriguez Romero, the Mexico City coordinator for the Mexican Red Cross.

RUBEN RODRIGUEZ ROMERO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says, "we've seen lots of people with respiratory infections and gastrointestinal infections." Respiratory problems are intensifying in the cool, dry, polluted air of Mexico City, while stomach problems likely come from the lack of sanitation available to the caravan in most places. I spoke to 20-year-old Honduran Marcos Dario, who had almost lost his voice and was waiting in line to be seen by nuns providing basic medical care.

MARCOS DARIO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says, "I'm really dehydrated. I've got a fever, a headache, the flu. My bones ache. I've got asthma symptoms." Dario says he's fainted twice while traveling and fighting through sickness. There are also volunteer psychologists on the ground helping migrants cope with trauma, fear, stress and anxiety. Marlen Nava Miranda, a psychologist from the Mexican Institute for Emergency Psychology, says they can't resolve psychological issues here, but they can help.

MARLEN NAVA MIRANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She says, "what we're trying to do is give support and stability, to lower stress and anxiety levels so they can be functional and make clear decisions." Mexico's federal police says more than 17,000 Central Americans have crossed into Mexico in caravans in the last month, but at least 4,000 have voluntarily returned or been deported to their home countries. Another 3,200 are requesting asylum in Mexico. But thousands more, even those still worn down by the flu like Kelly Zelaya, say they'll continue north.

ZELAYA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "Now I have even more strength to keep going," she says. "God will help me not fall ill again, and I'll continue moving." For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF IF THESE TREES COULD TALK'S "THE GIVING TREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.