Blaze inside Ciudad Juarez migrant facility kills 39, injures over 29
According to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the fire was started by the migrants themselves.
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Mexico’s worst fire in recent history broke out Monday night, March 27, resulting in the loss of 39 lives — migrant lives.
The blaze broke out inside the office of National Migration Institute (INM) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — a popular border crossing city that sits below El Paso, Texas — just before 10 p.m., March 28.
According to officials, 39 mostly Venezuelan migrants were killed and another 29 were injured. The agency said in a statement that the center was holding 68 men from Central and South America at the time of the blaze.
The INM, the institute overseeing the center that detains migrants waiting on requests for asylum in the U.S. or preparing to cross the border, has launched an investigation into the cause and have not officially released the nationalities of the deceased nor the cause of the fire.
One outlet, El Universal, reported that authorities had spent the better part of the day gathering Venezuelans who were asking for money on the streets of Ciudad Juarez. It is believed that some of them might have been transported to the facility and died in the fire that night.
The world woke up to tragic images published by the local Diario de Juarez newspaper and shared by The Associated Press that showed bodies under silver sheets, ambulances and firefighters outside the facility.
The center has said it's reached out to foreign consulates to help identify the victims and is asking Mexico's National Council on Human Rights to investigate.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador delivered the first official announcement regarding the incident during a Tuesday morning press briefing, where he announced the blaze was purposely sparked by the migrants themselves in protest of being informed of their deportation back to their countries.
The fire will serve as a big reminder for Mexico and the U.S. about the many dangers facing the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees still willing to take on the risks and go to the U.S.’s southern border on what is a terribly dangerous and fatal journey through South and Central America.
The detaining of migrants, particularly in centers such as the one in Ciudad Juarez, have raised concerns about the safety, security, and overall effectiveness of the facility, and raised questions about what more the U.S. can do to intervene.
In terms of immigration, the Biden Administration has been in hot water with Republicans over the issue, and now even Democrats.
On March 27, 17 top Senate Democrats including U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in writing a letter to Biden over concerns regarding the reports the Administration is considering reinstituting a “ineffective” and “inhumane” Trump-era policy of detaining migrant families.
This comes after putting an end to family detention in December 2021.
Also this past February, the Biden Administration instituted a rule that rejects migrants who traveled through other countries on their way to the U.S. border from applying for asylum — a huge difference from the former precedent.
In the letter, the Senate Democrats say that detaining families is impractical as a way of managing the immigration issue.
“Family detention does not appear to have deterred desperate families from attempting to come to the United States — instead, the implementation of this policy corresponded with an increase in unique encounters of children and individuals in families “by an average of 57% per year between 2015 and 2019,” the letter read.
They added that the DHS spent more than $866 million over a three-year period to maintain space to detain just over 3,000 family units per year.
“We understand that your Administration faces significant challenges — particularly in light of Congressional failure to pass immigration reform — to manage an influx of asylum seekers arriving at our southern border. However, the recent past has taught us that family detention is both morally reprehensible and ineffective as an immigration management tool,” they concluded.
News of the fire comes the same day that Mexico and the U.S. were set to announce their deal to combat fentanyl coming across the southern border. It would have had Mexico tracking down labs and smuggling while the U.S. does more to stop the flow of U.S. guns into Mexico, two sources familiar with the strategy told NBC News.
The two sides were able to agree tentatively after many months of tense and public disagreements.
The Mexican military and police, and U.S. law enforcement, will focus on tracking raw materials for fentanyl being shipped to Mexico, finding and shutting down labs and going after main people involved in the trade, the sources said. Biden and the U.S. will keep track of firearms entering Mexico from the U.S.
As of publication, nothing has been announced, but the Mexican government has agreed to provide more staffing, with the U.S. ready to invest more towards operations targeting drugs, the sources said.
The latest update as of publication came from the Guatemalan Institute of Migration, a government-run entity, who in a statement Tuesday said that at least 28 of those who died in the fire had been identified as Guatemalan nationals, adding that it would work with the families to have their loved ones returned.
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