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At Least 39 Migrants Die in Fire at Detention Center in Mexico. The State Is Responsible.

The events of March 27 marked one of the darkest chapters in the Mexican State’s anti-immigrant policy, a policy that is increasingly subordinated to the interests of U.S. imperialism.

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At least 39 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, died in the facilities of the National Migration Institute (INM) in Ciudad Juárez, on the border between the United States and Mexico. This is yet another enraging example of how borders and xenophobic border walls take the lives of our class siblings.

The official line by the bourgeois press and Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is that the migrants set the fire themselves in protest over their impending deportation. This reads as yet another attempt to criminalize migrants to justify the state’s repression.

In November of last year, a Venezuelan encampment on the banks of the Río Grande was violently evicted by the police under the command of Mayor Cruz Pérez Cuellar. The excuse for the repression were alleged risks to the migrants themselves; the police tore down temporary shelters and arrested migrants for resisting the eviction.

Cuellar, a former PAN leader and now member of AMLO’s MORENA party, has lost no time in showing his xenophobia, announcing on March 13 that the municipal government would toughen its stance against migrants who are stranded in Juárez. His announcement came after a demonstration of hundreds of migrants tried to cross the Paso del Norte International Bridge last Sunday. The migrants, primarily from Venezuela, defied border control and tried to cross the border in protest of misleading messages that were spread on social media promising that the authorities would let families with children pass.

In response, Cuellar promised harsher restrictions on migrants:

We are going to have a stronger position in taking care of the city … a crucial moment has arrived to put a stop to this … It is fundamental, because [migrants] can affect the economy of the city and thousands of people from Juárez and El Paso, or people from Las Cruces, because of activities like the one seen yesterday, which are totally foreign to the reality of the border.

The derogatory comments did not stop there. The mayor asked the people of Juárez not to give money to migrants who ask for support at the city’s intersections, saying “some do not want to work because they say ‘we get more at the crossroads.’” He finished his speech in the style of former President Diaz Ordaz: “The truth is that our patience level is running out.”

His claims that there were “complaints” about people asking for support in the streets was the prelude to a media campaign to criminalize migrants, in which an attempt was made to paint migrants as perpetrators of sexual assault. Local press reports placed particular emphasis on this issue. The Secretary of Public Security, César Omar Muñoz Morales, pointed out that women who travel alone in the region “feel intimidated by migrants.”

As a result, Morales announced a campaign against migrants, supposedly in an attempt to put a stop to sexual harassment in downtown Juárez. Officials also reported that demonstrations like the one on March 13 would not be tolerated again: “If people transgress the law, they are going to be sanctioned, even if they are migrants.”

In response to criticism of these policies, the delegate of the federal government in Chihuahua, Juan Carlos Loera, had to correct the mayor and reprimanded him for inflaming xenophobic and racist sentiments with his statements against migrants stranded in the city. He warned that measures of this type could generate irreparable damage and said that these types of statements “resemble those made by Sheriff Arpaio,” the now former police chief of Maricopa County in Arizona.

In the last two weeks, Venezuelan migrants have been subjected not only to a dirty media campaign, but also to systematic persecution by the National Migration Institute which wants to “remove them from the intersections.” Migrants have consistently refused to be detained in the precarious and oftentimes dangerous conditions of municipal shelters as they wait to cross into the United States. The conditions in these centers put migrants’ lives at risk, not the least of which is the risk which the police forces themselves pose in a climate of xenophobia and impunity.

On March 27, after an anti-immigrant raid through the streets of the city, the detention cells of the National Immigration Institute were the scene of a crime against humanity. Testimonies indicate that migrants began a protest throughout the detention center, demanding their freedom. Reports from journalists indicate that migrants piled up mattresses, backpacks, clothes, and other materials and that someone set fire to the pile; surveillance footage shows the guards in the center refusing to open cell doors as the fire spread and smoke filled the detention center. This blatant disregard for the wellbeing of the migrants claimed the lives of at least 39 migrants and seriously injured many others.

La Izquierda Diario, the Socialist Workers Movement (MTS), and Bread and Roses Mexico join in the demand to investigate the causes of this incident and to clarify the responsibilities of the authorities who kept the doors closed in an INM building which was clearly not equipped to handle an emergency of this sort. 

We denounce these events as a crime against humanity — regardless of whether it was committed intentionally or by omission. We hold the Mexican State — all three levels of government — responsible for these events. It is the state’s anti-immigrant policy that is subordinated to U.S. imperialism that is to blame for these deaths.

Open the borders! Workers of the world have no country! No human being is illegal, we are international workers! Justice and punishment for the guilty!

Originally published in Spanish on March 28 in La Izquierda Diario.

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La Izquierda Diario Mexico

Our Mexican sister site, part of the international network of La Izquierda Diario

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