by Jordan Arizmendi and Chuck Sharman
A huge fire inside an immigration detention facility in Ciudad Juarez, just across the Mexican border from El Paso, killed 38 men on March 28, 2023. Another 28 were left with injuries, according to Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.
While smoke filled the building and voices cried for help, surveillance video captured guards running away, making no effort to unlock doors and free those trapped in the flames.
The office of Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said the victims were migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. When the fire erupted, 68 men from those Central and South America countries were being held in the detention center.
Tensions have been rising in Ciudad Juarez, where shelters are filled with an estimated 35,000 asylum seekers who’ve waited months for a chance to enter the U.S. Under Title 42 of the Public Health law first passed in 1944, 42 U.S.C. § 265, migrants who made application for asylum at the U.S. border were required to remain in Mexico while their cases were heard. The official expiration of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency ended the program on May 11, 2023.
More than 2.8 million refusals were lodged under Title 42 after it was adopted in March 2020. Only families and unaccompanied children were exempt and allowed to enter the U.S. while their asylum requests were heard. It’s unclear how many migrants were actually denied entry, since there was no penalty for making multiple attempts. Under new restrictions put in place by the administration of Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D), those turned away at the border now must wait five years before attempting again.
The Biden administration has also begun turning away migrants who have passed through another country en route to the U.S. without requesting asylum there first. A similar ruled adopted by the previous administration of former Pres. Donald J. Trump (R) was struck down by a court. However the Biden administration has also rolled out an app for migrants to make application and secure a place in line for asylum application without applying elsewhere first.
On March 31, 2023, hundreds of migrants tried to force their way into the country across a bridge that links the Ciudad Juarez with El Paso, but they were repelled by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents armed with riot shields and tear gas.
To get migrants off the streets of Ciudad Juarez, the mayor found room for them in nearby detention centers. Meanwhile the Mexican government theorized that detainees started the detention center fire. However, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro suggested that human traffickers were to blame.
Sources: AP News, Los Angeles Times
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