Ciudad Juárez Fire Should be an Immigration Wake-up Call
The joint U.S.-Mexico strategy to stop Latin American migrants from crossing the southern border has gone up in flames.
Last week, at least 38 people were killed at a migrant detention facility in Ciudad Juárez, just steps away from El Paso, after a fire broke out. The Mexican government has issued arrest warrants for three officials and two security workers accused of negligently leaving detained migrants behind bars as the fire engulfed the facility.
To manage what the White House calls a temporary “surge” in migrants due to the expected lifting of Trump-era Title 42 immigration restrictions, the administration has escalated penalties for asylum-seekers crossing over the border illegally, while more and more migrants accumulate on the Mexican side of the border. This has left Mexican border towns overflowing with migrants turned away from border crossings and asylum-seekers waiting for their chance to formally begin the process of legal entry, dependent on an often-dysfunctional phone app to win an appointment.
This misguided strategy, which depends heavily on a partnership with the Mexican government, has created a human rights catastrophe across the border from California to Texas, illustrated by images of Venezuelan refugees, fleeing from one of the most oppressive governments in the Western hemisphere, weeping as their family members are trapped inside a flaming detention facility just steps away from American soil.
The disaster in Ciudad Juárez displays the Mexican government’s unreliability and ill-capacity to handle the flow of migrants on its border. Instead of shouldering his government’s part of the blame for the preventable deaths of dozens of migrants, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, blamed the administration’s focus on economic aid to Ukraine instead of Central America. Additionally, instead of any tangible pledges to tackle the grim state of Mexico’s immigration system or to provide relief to struggling border cities, López Obrador promised to create a nebulous migrant human rights commission.
López Obrador is partially correct about one thing: the Biden administration shares part of the blame for what happened in Ciudad Juárez and the greater human rights situation on the border, not because of prioritization of aid to Ukraine, but because they have chosen what has proven to be a fatal combination of a dysfunctional policy for asylum-seekers and an overdependence on Mexican authorities, who, among other failures to safeguard the human rights of migrants, are complicit in over 38 people being burned alive under their care.
The most vulnerable migrants, often refugees from brutal dictatorships like Venezuela and Nicaragua, are the most heavily impacted. Aside from the sheer dysfunction of the newly rolled-out immigration phone app, it does not differentiate between economic migrants and refugees fleeing violence or political persecution, leaving the most at-risk groups on the streets.
The Biden administration was inaugurated on the heels of the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies, policies that I felt personally as my family members from Syria were barred entry to the U.S. under Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees. President Biden must make good on his promises to heal our immigration system as more and more migrants desperate for the promise of freedom and prosperity accumulate at border cities like Ciudad Juárez.
As Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto warned earlier this month, the planned lifting of Title 42 without a comprehensive plan has left the border in crisis. Our over-dependence on a corrupt Mexican government has abjectly failed asylum-seekers who we are supposed to protect, and dozens of migrants in Ciudad Juárez have paid the ultimate price.