Cartels will exploit the 7,000 strong migrant caravan marching to the US, warns DHS as Trump vows to halt the 'onslaught of illegal aliens'
- Department of Homeland Security said it is 'closely monitoring' migrant caravan after it crossed into Mexico
- DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen vowed to root out cartels trying to help desperate foreigners into the US
- Caravan now numbers around 7,000 people after caravan skirted around Mexican border guards and fences
- President Trump said 'full efforts' are being made to stop 'onslaught of illegal aliens' crossing the border
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that criminals and people smugglers who 'prey on the vulnerabilities' of migrants will be hunted down and 'prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law'.
She spoke out as thousands of people marched on through Mexico toward the US on Sunday, having skirted around fences and guards along the border with Guatemala.
Up to 7,000 people are now traveling in the caravan, according to the LA Times, though AP reported 5,000 and AFP counted as few as 3,000.
Several thousand are thought to have returned home, some on buses provided by the Guatemalan government, after being blocked at the Mexican border.
But a new group of 1,000 Hondurans has begun the journey, vowing to following in the footsteps of the first.
Mexican officials say 640 people stopped at their border before applying for legal refuge, including 164 women, more than 104 children and teenagers, and many older and disabled people.
Of those who managed to cross the border most ended up in a town called Tapachula, around 20 miles from the border at Ciudad Hidalgo, where they rested on Sunday night before continuing their march.
They now face a daunting slog of 1,600 miles across Mexico before reaching the US border, where President Trump has vowed to turn them away.
Mexican border guards initially drew praise from Trump for their hardline approach after stopping thousands of people from crossing into the country using riot shields and tear gas.
But many later crossed the river on makeshift rafts, or were helped across by sympathetic Mexicans who loaded them into pickups, vans and cargo trucks before driving across.
Speaking on Sunday about the group who had crossed into Mexico, Nielsen said: 'While we closely monitor the caravan crisis, we must remain mindful of the transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that prey on the vulnerabilities of those undertaking the irregular migration journey.
'We shall work with our partners in the region to investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all who seek to encourage and profit from irregular migration.
'We fully support the efforts of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, as they seek to address this critical situation and ensure a safer and more secure region.'
Aaron Juarez, 21, a migrant walking through Mexico with his wife and baby while limping from an injury, vowed 'no one is going to stop us' from getting into the US. '[Not] after all we've gone through.'
Honduran farmer Edwin Geovanni Enamorado said he was forced to leave his country because of intimidation by racketeering gangs. 'We are tired, but very happy, we are united and strong,' he said.
Britany Hernandez added: 'We have sunburn. We have blisters. But we got here. Our strength is greater than Trump's threats.'
Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for fair treatment of the migrants.
'We don't want them to face what (Mexicans) face when they need to look for work in the United States,' he said on Twitter.
The caravan left San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras more than a week ago, following a call on social networks relayed by a former Honduran deputy.
The politician, Bartolo Fuentes - a member of leftist former president Manuel Zelaya's Freedom and Refoundation Party - told AFP he only reproduced a poster on his Facebook page.
The poster invited people on a 'Migrant march' with a slogan: 'We're not leaving because we want to, but because we are being expelled by violence and poverty.'
Morales and his Honduran counterpart Juan Orlando Hernandez said after meeting that the march was 'violating the borders and the good faith of the states.'
The Honduran president acknowledged that social problems were a contributory factor.
'Without a doubt, we have a lot to do so that our people can have opportunities in their communities,' he said.
Migrants denied their motives were political.
'We decided to join those who were going,' said Edgar Aguilar. This is not political. This comes from hunger, from the drought, it's for prosperity, for a better life. This is not political!'
The migrants are generally fleeing poverty and insecurity in Honduras, where powerful street gangs rule their turf with brutal violence.
With a homicide rate of 43 per 100,000 citizens, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world, according to a Honduran university study.