The deaths of at least 38 people in a fire that broke out at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez, on the Mexico-U.S. border, is the latest evidence of a migratory crisis presenting huge challenges for a large part of the Americas region and shows the urgent need for a comprehensive response. The immediate priority, however, is to clarify exactly what happened at the immigration center located near the Stanton-Lerdo International Bridge, a few hundred meters from the United States, which is run Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM), nominally dependent on the Secretariat of the Interior. According to the Mexican authorities, the fire was started by migrants being held there as a form of protest after they learned they were to be deported. That may be the case, but it remains scandalous that none of the agents charged with their care were able to respond to the emergency.
Moreover, the facility’s security cameras captured horrific images: the detainees were locked in cells and the guards did not open them even when smoke and flames began to engulf the building, condemning them to die of burns and asphyxiation. The majority of the victims were Central American and Venezuelan migrants attempting to reach the United States. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised a full and thorough investigation, one that he said will be transparent and exhaustive. The Mexican president has acknowledged that conflicting versions of events have been circulating. A lack of oversight led several government departments to report contradictory death tolls and the investigation has been left in the hands of the Attorney General, Alejandro Gertz, one of López Obrador’s most trusted officials.
Getting to the bottom of what happened in Ciudad Juárez is a matter of the greatest urgency. First and foremost, to offer justice for the relatives of the victims, who arrived in the border city at the end of a journey full of hardship and humiliation. And secondly, to prevent the evidence of what took place from being lost or contaminated. This tragedy is the latest in a trend that is becoming more and more difficult to manage. Migration is not only one of the main gears of coexistence in the Americas, but it also to a great extent determines diplomatic relations between Washington and the rest of the continent. Last week marked three years since the implementation of the controversial Title 42, a legislative measure adopted by Donald Trump at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic that effectively closed U.S. borders to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to soon make a ruling on repealing the regulation at the request of the Joe Biden administration. The court’s decision will help clarify the situation of a multitude of migrants waiting in limbo at the U.S.-Mexico border, while tens of thousands more are concentrated in southern Mexico waiting to depart on the onward journey toward the United States. In the meantime, the authorities must leave no stone unturned in determining who is responsible for the tragedy in Ciudad Juárez, at whatever cost.
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