By Jose Torres
TAPACHULA, Mexico (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants set off from Mexico's southern border early on Friday on a northward journey to the U.S.-Mexico border where hundreds of others are stranded following a deal to expel Venezuelan migrants crossing into the United States.
The group of people departed around 4 a.m. from the city of Tapachula, near Mexico's border with Guatemala, en route to San Pedro Tapanatepec in Mexico's Oaxaca state, where migrants can acquire permits to cross the country.
A migration official estimated the total number of migrants at 500, mostly Venezuelans, although local media reported the group to be over 1,000.
Around 200 migrants stayed behind in Tapachula.
Also on Friday, around 300 Venezuelan migrants gathered in the northern Mexican border town of Matamoros, trying to cross the Matamoros-Brownsville bridge into Texas.
Some migrants chained themselves together in protest and painted their hands white in a symbolic gesture of peace.
Washington announced a plan Wednesday to grant humanitarian access to the United States for up to 24,000 Venezuelans who enter the country by air and with a U.S.-based sponsor.
The agreement with Mexico, announced as many Venezuelans were traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border, allows for U.S. authorities to expel Venezuelans caught crossing the border back into Mexico.
The number of Venezuelan migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has spiked this year. Record numbers of migrants from around the world have crossed a dangerous strip of Panamanian jungle known as the Darien Gap in order to reach the United States.
(Reporting by Jose Torres in Tapachula; Additional reporting by Fidel Velazquez in Matamoros; Writing by Brendan O'Boyle; editing by Grant McCool)
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