MEXICO CITY — President Trump threatened on Tuesday to withhold aid from the Honduran government if it did not halt a mass migration of more than 1,500 people, mainly from Honduras, who crossed into Guatemala this week, many with the intention of reaching the United States.
“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” President Trump said on his Twitter account.
The migrants began their march on Friday in the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. Moving on foot and in vehicles, they crossed into Guatemala on Monday, pushed past two police roadblocks and came to a rest for the night in the town of Esquipulas, with some resuming their northward trek on Tuesday morning.
Some estimates put the group’s size as large as 2,000 people.
In another Twitter post on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump expanded his threat to include El Salvador and Guatemala.
“We have today informed the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally, all payments made to them will STOP (END)!” he wrote.
Tens of thousands of Hondurans and other Central Americans have migrated north in recent years, fleeing rampant violence, poverty or a combination of those factors. Some have occasionally chosen to move in caravans — large, semi-coordinated groups — their size offering participants some degree of security against the many perils that lurk on the migrant trail, including muggings, extortion and rape.
Such caravans have been something of an annual event for years and have mostly happened without much fanfare or international attention.
But a group of migrants earlier this year drew the attention of President Trump, who posted messages on Twitter warning that they posed a threat to American sovereignty. He used their migration to help justify the deployment of the National Guard to the southwest border of the United States.
That caravan, which also included many Hondurans and at one point numbered an estimated 1,200 before diminishing in size, eventually reached the northern border of Mexico, with an enormous international media contingent in tow. After a tense standoff at the border crossing in Tijuana, several hundred migrants were eventually allowed through to petition for asylum in the United States, while others melted back into Mexican society, returned to their home countries or attempted to cross into the United States illegally.
During that migration, Mr. Trump also threatened Honduras, saying foreign aid to that nation, as well as to “the countries that allow this to happen,” was “in play.”
Honduras, where gangs exercise widespread control in certain neighborhoods, has one of the world’s highest homicide rates, though the numbers have been falling in recent years after hitting a peak in 2011. The rate plunged by more than a quarter in 2017, according to the Honduran government, which attributed the drop to an effort by security forces to attack drug traffickers and gangs.
Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the United States Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement the current caravan was “what we see day-in and day-out at the border as a result of well-advertised and well-known catch-and-release loopholes,” referring to undocumented immigrants apprehended at the border who are released to await the processing of their cases.
“Until Congress acts, we will continue to have de facto open borders that guarantees future ‘caravans’ and record numbers of family units entering the country illegally,” Ms. Waldman said.
Vice President Mike Pence also weighed in on Twitter on Tuesday, saying he had spoken with the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, about the caravan.
“Delivered strong message from @POTUS: no more aid if caravan is not stopped,” he wrote. “Told him U.S. will not tolerate this blatant disregard for our border & sovereignty.”
Despite the warnings from the White House, however, it remained unclear what the Honduran government could do to bring back the migrants, now that they were on Guatemalan soil.
It also remained unclear how the caravan, still more than 900 miles away from the Texas border, was an affront to United States sovereignty. Mr. Pence’s tweet also did not seem to allow for the possibility that at least some members of the group might have legitimate asylum claims in the United States. The caravan includes families, many of them with small children. Past caravans have generally diminished in size as they made their way north toward the United States border.
Guatemalan police officers first tried to impede the progress of the caravan at the border with Honduras on Monday, but after a couple of hours, the procession continued. A second attempt by police to turn back the migrants and force them to return to a border processing station was equally futile.
An agreement between Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua allows the free transit of nationals of those countries without the need for passports, according to the International Organization for Migration. Still, travelers need to be processed at the borders, officials said.
Should the current caravan be allowed to continue north unimpeded, the migrants’ next major political obstacle will likely be the Mexico border.
Mexico’s migration agency issued a warning on Monday that on arrival at the southern border of Mexico, all members of the migrant caravan will be checked by immigration authorities.
In the case of the last major caravan, which started in March in the southern Mexican border city of Tapachula and reached the United States border in late April, the Mexican authorities registered hundreds of participants after they had already crossed into southern Mexico and gave them letters of safe passage. The documents protected the migrants from deportation for either three weeks or a month, depending on whether they intended to apply for legal immigration status in Mexico or leave the country — which for many meant entering the United States.
The current caravan formed a day after Mr. Pence, at a meeting in Washington, pressed the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to do a better job stopping their citizens from emigrating.
“Tell your people: Don’t put your families at risk by taking the dangerous journey north to attempt to enter the United States illegally,” Mr. Pence said.