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Tragedy in Juarez Detention Center Sparks Anger and Calls for Change

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Washington, DC – The horrific fire that claimed at least 38 lives in Mexico this week should remind us that each migrant is a person with hopes and aspirations for safety, dignity, and a better life, and that our outdated immigration system is failing them and us. Migrants seeking safety encounter a U.S. system designed to keep them in Mexico with both countries demonstrating indifference to the lives of our fellow human beings. Those killed were jailed in Mexico and left to die when the staff apparently abandoned them locked-in to meet fates. It is a human tragedy that has rocked immigrant communities in the United States and Mexico and the countries from which these migrants fled.

The Archdiocese of El Paso, under the leadership of Bishop Mark J. Seitz has a ‘Border Refugee Assistance Fund’ to aid migrants at the US-Mexico border. Meanwhile, the Hope Border Institute joined with the Franciscan Network for Migrants and the Quixote Center to make specific and immediate recommendations to government entities on the Mexican side of the border.

The Biden Administration can help by offering immediate admittance via parole status to those affected by the fire. Anyone who was in that detention center should be afforded the safety that they deserve.

The tragedy has prompted a fresh round of outcry and frustration about the U.S. and Mexico approach to immigration. Among them are: 

Bishop Mark J. Seitz, Diocese of El Paso:

“The need in Juarez is tremendous. Churches and community-led initiatives there are doing everything possible to feed, clothe and offer shelter to thousands of migrant families fleeing desperate conditions and looking for safety and refuge.”

Marisa Limon Garza, Executive Director, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center:

“We are angry, but we are also tired. Angry and tired at having to make yet another statement in order to convince those in power on both sides of the border that it is unacceptable and inhumane to rest the weight of politics on the shoulders of those looking for safety at our borders.

…This is another horrific tragedy resulting from punitive and racist enforcement and border deterrence policies that have only resulted in hundreds of migrant deaths.”

Fernando Garcia, Executive Director, Border Network for Human Rights:

“This Mexican agency (INM) has expressed that they are not a detention center, but rather a temporary accommodation center. However, migrants were key-locked inside the INM when the fire was reported, leaving them trapped in the deadly fire.

…With the utmost urgency, we call for a public and transparent investigation that provides a clear explanation for this incident and demand the necessary reparations for the victims and families of this horrific tragedy.”

Refugees International

“Migrants who have committed no crimes in Mexico should not be detained in such facilities, which are de facto prisons where migrants do not have the ability to leave and are kept in abhorrent conditions while detained. 

…Finally, we cannot ignore that many of these migrants continue to wait in border cities like Ciudad Juarez without documentation so they can enter the United States to seek protection—a situation created by successive U.S. administrations’ undue restrictions on asylum access.”

Welcome With Dignity (in a press release that captures statements from dozens of groups):

“The region has seen several other tragic incidents involving refugees and people seeking asylum in recent months–an undeniable result of the dangerous conditions and criminalization that people seeking safety face. These tragedies show us, once again, the need for a safe and humane system to process people seeking protection. The United States and Mexican governments must work together to uphold asylum.”

Amnesty International:

“This tragedy occurred in a context in which people have been forced to seek international protection, as they are at risk of losing their lives or suffering other human rights violations, both in their countries of origin and in those of transit and destination. Faced with this situation, the countries in the region, led by the United States, have established shared migration policies that are increasingly inhumane, making it almost impossible to access the right to seek asylum, and forcing people to seek more dangerous routes that place them in even more vulnerable situations.”

According to Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

“As we learn more about the devastating fire that occurred in Juarez, it is becoming evident that our immigration policies are harming people in irreparable ways. We can and must do better. As the end date of Title 42 approaches in May, serious action needs to be taken to adequately staff and resource the American response to the expected surge of migrants. We cannot have an immigration system grounded in deterrence, expulsion, punishment and fear.”