On March 27, a fire broke out inside a Mexican migrant detention facility, killing 40 people held there. The incident is one of the most gruesome examples of abuses committed against migrants at the Mexico-U.S. border in recent years. When the fire started in the facility—which is run by Mexico’s National Migration Institute, or INM—security personnel saw smoke and flames filling the men’s cell. Yet, as security camera footage showed, they walked away from the blaze, leaving the men locked inside. As well as the 40 people who died, dozens more were hospitalized with burns and organ damage.
The men were migrants from Central and South America, with most of them headed for the United States in the hopes of reuniting with loved ones or finding work to support family who had stayed behind in other countries. They were detained by Mexican authorities for lacking a documented status, despite some of them actually possessing authorization to be in the country. The men formed part of the burgeoning population of migrants and asylum-seekers stranded in and around Mexican border towns, as U.S. ports of entry largely remain closed to asylum requests. Many migrants and asylum-seekers who cross between official ports of entry are subject to summary expulsion into northern Mexico—regardless of their protection needs—under Title 42, a pandemic-era measure invoked by U.S. authorities to expel thousands of migrants from the country on public health grounds.
This tragic case has yet again exposed the failure of U.S. as well as Mexican migration and border-control policies. The Western Hemisphere is experiencing increased migration flows, driven to a considerable extent by repression, persecution, crime, conflict, poverty and the climate emergency. In this context, thousands of individuals and families are caught between Washington’s continued closure of the U.S. southern border to most asylum-seekers under Title 42 and the dangers they face on the Mexican side of the border. These hazards include the risk of being swept up in raids like the ones that led to the detention of many of the fire’s victims. Migrant detentions have reached record numbers during the administration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO.