A fire in a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez resulted in the deaths of at least 40 migrants.
Video of the fire has gone viral because Mexican guards are seen walking away from the fire as a migrant struggles to open a locked door on what looks like a large jail cell. Then flames and smoke envelop the area.
According to a statement from Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, among the dead and injured were people from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Ecuador and Colombia. Mexico announced they will investigate the deaths as homicides.
Human rights advocates said this tragedy is due to the restrictive and cruel immigration policies implemented by the governments of Mexico and the United States.
According to news reports, the building where the tragic fire occurred is used to jail migrants who have been detained in Mexico and migrants expelled by the U.S. Border Patrol under Trump-era Title 42.
The Biden administration has promised to get rid Title 42, an executive order that allows U.S. immigration officials to turn away migrants at the U.S. borders without a hearing. It was originally done to stop the spread of coronavirus from migrants coming across the U.S. southern border. Although there was no evidence of migrants spreading the virus.
“These devastating events lay bare a truly inhumane system of immigration enforcement. How is it possible that the Mexican authorities left human beings locked up with no way to escape the fire?” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement.
The First Chamber of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice declared in March of this year that people should not be held in migrant detention centers for more than 36 hours, after which they should be released from detention.
“What happened in Ciudad Juarez is a reminder of the importance of adjusting immigration regulations to adhere to the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Justice and put an end to the practices that have caused untold damage, including torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, to thousands of migrants who have passed through these centers,” said Edith Olivares Ferreto, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, in a statement.
Mexico’s President Manuel Lopez Obrador the migrants were believed to have started the fire themselves to protest against deportations.
“From the investigation it is clear that there was negligence, but we still need to know exactly what happened,” he said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “There will be no impunity.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a thorough investigation into the fire.
“Those who blame the victims of the fire obscure the fact these deaths are an indictment of the policies and structures implemented at large by both governments,” the nonprofit Hope Border Institute noted in a statement.
But what the fire reveals is broken immigration policies in the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico is detaining and holding migrants, including those expelled from the U.S. They don’t have the facilities or the resources to do this humanely.
Under U.S. immigration law, migrants fleeing persecution can request asylum regardless of how they arrive on U.S. soil. But the Biden administration proposed a more restrictive immigration rule to take effect in May.
It will penalize asylum seekers who cross the border illegally, or do not apply for protection in other nations they pass through on their way to the United States. The penalty would make it easier for the government to stop asylum seekers from entering the country. The U.S. says migrants will be able to make an appointment at a U.S. border crossing. Appointments can be made with an app, which is not realistic for many migrants who may not have a phone, Internet or even basic resources.
More than 2 million migrants, including asylum seekers, have been expelled since March 2020 under Title 42. The new Biden rule would give the government an enforcement tool when Title 42 ends.
The new policy would result in a reduction of the number of asylum seekers who are allowed into the United States. It also would mean more migrants would be sent back to Mexico, or detained in Mexico.
The fire demonstrates that migrants’ health and safety is not guaranteed in Mexico. The U.S. must do more to ensure that those seeking asylum, many fleeing death and violence, are protected, and not barred from seeking asylum in the U.S.