At least 39 migrants die after fire at immigration center

José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: Mitchel Lensink / Unsplash

The flames that set fire to the detention center of the National Migration Institute (INM) in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which cost the lives of 39 Central and South American migrants and injured 29 others, had been simmering.

According to the first official investigations, cited by the Diario de Juárez, the 68 immigrants who were locked up in a confinement area of the Institute of Migration, “barricaded themselves and set fire to the place.”

Could the flames and fire have been seen on the other side of the border, in the United States? Many of those dead migrants were waiting their turn to start or complete the asylum process to try to live their American dream or reunite with their families.

Beyond the fact that the results of the final investigation confirm that it was an act of desperation, the reality is that the frustration and impotence faced by tens of thousands of migrants who must wait long periods of time to be heard in their asylum requests or to complete the process is not new.

Although President Joe Biden’s administration made the CBPOne mobile app available to asylum seekers, the process has been plagued with complaints. And just last month he announced his most restrictive proposed rule for asylum seekers: everyone will be automatically deemed ineligible unless they can prove they were denied their asylum application by a third country of transit, such as Mexico.

The new rule, which is in the consultation process, could be put into operation as of May when the public health emergency due to the COVID pandemic ends.

While the Biden administration launched a new program to accept up to 30,000 migrants a month from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, which has drastically reduced the number of migrants from those countries arriving at the US-Mexico border, politics has not completely contained the exodus.

Just this month, a coalition of migrant legalization advocates had complained about what they called the criminalization of asylum seekers, cases of abuse of authority or excessive use of force.

Hundreds of asylum seekers, most of them Venezuelans, recently tried to break through a border checkpoint amid rumors that they would be allowed into the United States. Although they were blocked, the incident laid bare the tensions and frustrations that migrants seem to have at the border.

Other similar frustrating incidents have been recorded in the border city of Tijuana, Baja California, as well as in a detention center in Tapachula, Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, or the tragic death of 53 migrants inside another hell, inside a trailer found near Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in 2022.

The deaths of the 39 migrants call for a reconsideration of the policies that the United States and Mexico apply towards migrants. It is obvious that they have not been up to the task of a problem whose humanitarian dimension escapes simple solutions. Or else it’s a matter of time before the next hell breaks out at the border.