On March 27, a fire in a federal migrant detention center in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, killed 40 people. Six people have been issued arrest orders for homicide and causing injuries, but the ones responsible for incarcerating these migrants and upholding the migration systems which led these detention facilities to exist, have escaped accountability.
The Mexican Nation Institute of Immigration (INM) was detaining 68 migrants from Central and South America in these facilities. Some of them were waiting for their asylum request under Title 42 and others were recently confined after the police raided Juarez and detained the migrants that were cleaning car windows, selling candy or begging for money.
Dr. Carlos Martinez — an assistant professor of Migrant Health & Social Justice in the Latin American & Latino Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz — and Mayte Elizalde — Communications Officer with the Hope Border Institute — share similar views regarding the fire in Juarez.
“These are all unfortunately ongoing outcomes of the militarization and bureaucratization of the border and several asylum policies that the U.S is implementing with Mexico,” Martinez said.
Martinez argues that Mexico has been becoming a migrant prison for people in transit from Latin America and the Caribbean to the U.S., and changes in asylum policies has forced migrants to now be stuck in Mexican border cities and detention centers. The U.S. is outsourcing asylum, and preventing migrants from even accessing the system.
The Hope Border Institute does urgent humanitarian work in Juarez and policy work in El Paso. Elizalde lives in El Paso and regularly visits the Clinica Hope.
“Here in the U.S., there is not really a response to the migration crisis but more implementation of inhumane policies and no one is really trying to resolve the issue but just packing on it and blame shifting between Mexico and the U.S,” Elizalde said.
Martinez noted that the Obama administration started this system of placing limits at ports of entry, but then under Trump it became an institutionalized bureaucratic practice that was implemented across all ports of entries of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The overall asylum system is racist, classist and part of a major geopolitical project, with the most obvious example [being] the Ukrainian asylum seekers who are treated vastly differently from anywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Martinez said.
Under President Biden’s humanitarian protocols, Ukrainians seeking asylum in the U.S. are not subject to any sort of caps for the number of asylum seekers coming from there.
“Ukraine is going through a very horrible situation right now,” Martinez said. “But arguably, all of these places and these people fleeing are. How did we end up valuing life in this highly unequal way?”
When Trump instituted Title 42, it nearly shut down asylum in the U.S., and now with people requesting asylum, they’re forced to wait in Mexico.
“They are already fleeing horrible conditions,” Elizalde said. “They are scared and have endured a long journey, fleeing from a country with economic, environmental, political and social issues. And they come here hoping for the best and for a better future, to wait for their appointment for asylum and be treated horribly in Mexico.”
The United Nations and Human Rights watch have released several reports in regard to Mexico’s migrant detention centers, highlighting the lack of basic necessities, such as running water, as well as respect for the human rights of the people detained in and outside of them in Mexican border cities.
“Most of the people that I have met in these shelters are scared of being on the streets of Juarez because of the constant Mexican police harassment and abuse of authority, together with organized crime and violence,” Elizalde said.
The Federal Attorney General’s Office in Mexico is investigating the fire. So far, six arrest warrants have been issued and Mexico’s National Immigration Institute head officer will be charged.
“I do not think the arrest warrants are going to solve or change conditions for migrants. This fire is a small bit of a mass phenomenon that will not end until we return the right to migrants to request asylum, the U.S. abolishes Title 42, and restores the asylum system in the first place.”Dr. Carlos Martinez, UC Santa Cruz assistant professor of Migrant Health & Social Justice
Likewise, Elizalde said Mexico and U.S. governments should reexamine the systems they have created for these people in these specific regions of the world.
“How do you let 40 people die and how can we make sure it will not happen again? More and more people will get stuck in Mexico detention facilities and as of today, Mexico is not prepared to provide a decent space for them to wait for the asylum trial,” Elizalde said.
The message is simple. People should not be confined in detention centers in the first place. And to quote the poet Francesca Gargallo: “La calle es de quien la camina, las fronteras son asesinas”.