About 1,500 exhausted Central American migrants from the caravan heading toward the United States border have arrived to a friendly welcome in Mexico City.
"The journey is tiring and it takes a lot out of us. We suffer a lot, especially the children because of the heat," Ángel Morales, a 32-year old baker from Pedro Alvarado, El Salvador, told UPI Monday.
"We've been traveling since the beginning of October," said Morales, who is on the journey with his wife, 15-month-old son Jonathan and 13-year-old daughter Julie.
Jonathan rides in a stroller while his family carries their few belongings in bags.
Many of the migrants who arrived Monday morning spent the night in shelters and a sports stadium in Puebla, a city two hours to Mexico City's south. By foot and sometimes hitching rides to cover 50 miles a day, Morales said it has taken almost three weeks to reach Mexico City. Before that they were in the state of Veracruz. The first Mexican city they arrived in was Tapachula on the border with Guatemala.
"We were treated very well by Guatemalan authorities. They gave us food for the children," Morales said.
Morales cannot find work as a baker in El Salvador and decided to migrate, he said, "to find a better future for my children."
He wants to head to Los Angeles where he has cousins who are legal permanent residents and have been in the United States for a long time.
"If God wants us to get there, we will arrive," Morales said. "There is security on every border, but we still don't know what part of the U.S.-Mexico border we are headed to. I don't know if we will apply for asylum in Mexico."
He was unaware of the requirements to apply for asylum in the United States.
Authorities in Mexico's largest city are offering a warm welcome to the impoverished men, women and children, as U.S. President Donald Trump deploys soldiers and barbed wire fencing in anticipation of the caravan's arrival at the U.S. border.
Mexico City officials have dedicated a sports stadium and its grounds as a temporary shelter for the migrants. On offer are three meals a day, a place to sleep, water for bathing, medical attention and assistance with requesting political asylum from Mexico. Even though police are guarding the stadium, the migrants can come and go as they like, along with volunteers, visitors and the media.
Civil society organizations, such as Mexico's Red Cross are also helping with humanitarian relief.
"We learned yesterday part of the migrant caravan would reach Mexico City," said Rafael Becerril, a humanitarian coordinator for Mexico's Red Cross. "So we had to act fast. Mexico's Red Cross has been providing support to the caravan ever since they entered Mexican territory. We are specifically providing free phone calls to migrants so they can contact family back home."
The Red Cross coordinator said people in the caravan come from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and some Nicaraguans.
Elisa Puerto, 30, was traveling from Honduras with her 4-year-old daughter Sofia. The pair left Sonaguera, their hometown, 25 days ago. Puerto left her three other daughters, ages 10, 8, and 7, in the care of her sister. When asked if she missed them, the single mother began to cry.
"I left them because there are no opportunities in Honduras. Work does not pay enough to support the children. And nobody gives a woman work if you have children," Puerto said. "We are traveling alone. Circumstances have forced me to become brave. I have a brother who just turned 18 who got to the United States by himself a few months ago. He's now living with an uncle in Houston."
Puerto said the journey has been "tough" but "people in Guatemala and Mexico have been very supportive, even the police have helped. Only good things have happened to us on the trip."
"The idea is to stay in Mexico," Puerto said. "If Mexico's president is going to give us a work permit it would be a good option to stay here."
Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico's outgoing president, announced two weeks ago the government would issue work permits for Central American migrants in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Other migrants from Honduras told UPI they had been extorted as business owners back home.
"We had a convenience store, but gangs started threatening us so we decided to leave," Gloria Mejía said.
The 32-year old is traveling with her daughter, Honey, 14, and a friend, César Oliva, 23. The three are trying to get to Virginia, where they have family and where they want to work. They do not want to stay in Mexico.
"The future for me in Honduras is not good," Oliva said. "At my age, 23, there is no work for young people. My family is really poor. We don't have a house. I want to work so that my mother has a better life."
Many of the migrants said they don't understand why Trump is calling them criminals or telling them to return to places where there is violence and no opportunities for work.
"What President Trump is saying is really hard to hear," Mejía said. "We just want opportunities and we want to work. The only thing I want to do is work."
Others were not wedded to the idea of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
"If we could get to the United States, that would be great," Puerto said. "But sometimes you can't hope for that much. The U.S. president is saying many illogical things. We aren't criminals in the caravan. We just want to work, and for our children to have a better future."
Mexico City is more than 850 miles to the nearest part of the U.S. border.