“Outsourcing” Death: 39 Migrants Killed in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Detention Center

The Full Story of a Slaughter, and How and Why It Happened

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Woman, distraught at deadly fire that killed at least 39 migrants inside detention center, March 27, 2023.    Photo: AP

Enrique Coy Pop … Eyner Anibal García Dieguez … Higinio Alberto Ramírez Torres … Jesús Adony Alvarado Madrid … Marvin Armides García Pacheco … Milton Alexis Melara Melgar … Julián David Villamil Arévalo …

These are the names of some of the 39 people, migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Honduras, who died—who were killed—in a fire on the night of March 27. At least 29 others are hospitalized, and remain in “delicate-serious” conditions.

They all were in the men’s wing of a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez, a city of 1.5 million people directly across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas. The migrants had intended to cross the Rio Grande into Texas, apply for asylum, and obtain work in the U.S. Each had sacrificed everything they owned to make a perilous journey of about 2,000 miles, often with their family. The U.S. government turned them away. They were forced to wait in Juárez.

There they joined legions of people struggling to somehow earn enough to feed themselves and their families in Juárez’s informal economy, and survive on the streets of one of the world’s most violent cities. Many, maybe most, of those who died had been picked up that day by Mexican authorities and thrown into the detention center run by Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM).

Mexican authorities, starting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), blamed the dead migrants for rioting and starting the fire that killed them. He said, “This had to do with a protest that they started after, we assume, they found out that they were going to be deported, and as a protest, they put mattresses from the shelter at the door of the shelter, and they set fire to them and they did not imagine that this was going to cause this terrible accident. It is very sad that this is happening.” 

On the streets of Juárez, many migrants reacted angrily to AMLO’s accusation. Reporter Alfredo Corchado tweeted on March 28 that “outside the immigration office migrants held a peaceful protest, pushing back against the government narrative that it was migrants who started the fire. They asked for government accountability, saying ‘we’re human beings, not animals. Treat us with dignity.’”

Venezuelan sisters outside immigration center where dozens of migrants were killed in fire, March 27, 2023.    Photo: AP

Prison authorities and guards left the migrants to die. A prison surveillance video clearly shows migrants trapped in locked cells as fire erupts. Guards stroll out of the area and make no effort to release the men as smoke quickly engulfed the detention area. A 31-year-old Venezuelan woman, whose husband was in the detention center, told a reporter, “At 10 p.m., we started to see smoke billowing from everywhere, everybody ran away but they left the men locked in. They never opened the door.” On Thursday, a Mexican court issued orders for the arrests of six people—three INM officials, two private security guards, and a prisoner accused of starting the fire—on charges of “homicide and causing injuries.”

The Cruel Façade of the Biden Administration

Beginning in the years of Donald Trump’s fascist regime, the U.S. began using “Title 42 expulsions” to force migrants out of the U.S. (See box for more on Title 42.) Title 42 enabled first Trump and then Biden to expel almost 2.7 million people from the U.S. without any legal hearing. But Title 42, and with it the justification for preventing migrants for applying for asylum, is set to expire on May 11.

For much of this year, the Biden administration has claimed that its efforts to “get control” of the border have been succeeding, despite the looming end of Title 42. In January, Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said Biden’s “… expanded border enforcement measures are working.” By “working,” Mayorkas means that millions of desperate people seeking asylum have been expelled from the U.S., mostly forced into Mexico. And, unlike the blatant hatred for immigrants and contempt for the very concept of asylum that motivates Trump and the Republi-fascists, the Biden administration has maintained a cruel façade of “compassion” and legality in doing so.

First, Biden’s DHS implemented a rule (initially proposed by Trump) requiring people who passed through other countries before they reach the U.S. to apply for asylum in at least one of those countries. This is in flagrant violation of U.S. and international law. But it means that if someone from, for example, Guatemala, or Colombia, had traveled through Mexico on their way to the U.S. (which they almost certainly would), they have to prove to U.S. authorities that they had applied for asylum in Mexico, or be thrown out.

Think about it. Meeting this requirement is almost impossible for people travelling thousands of miles by foot, on top of trains, and crammed into trailers; people preyed upon by police, the military, and criminal gangs; people carrying everything they own on their backs, often along with their children. Biden’s claim of a “fair and legal process” rests upon a reality of heartless injustice.

The DHS also created an app called “CBP ONE” so that people could supposedly fill out online applications for appointments in the U.S. while they were in Mexico, and wait there until they heard back. Texas Monthly described this app as “cruelty dressed as technical incompetence.” In a typical example, only two of over 1,000 migrants got appointments in the first two weeks at a migrant center in Tijuana, Mexico. Countless people have been forced to remain in Mexico, homeless and penniless, while repeatedly making futile attempts to use CBP ONE. People who enter the U.S. without first using the app are immediately deported. A Venezuelan woman, stuck in a Mexican border town for months with her family, told a reporter, “The app has failed for us so many times, in so many different ways … We have not seen a single person in Matamoros get an appointment for over five days.”

Several outbursts of protest have broken out in Juárez and other cities. On March 12, a crowd of hundreds marched towards one of the main bridges connecting Juárez and El Paso. There, U.S. pigs met them with barricades, razor wire, and billy clubs.

Repression Expands and Intensifies

In late December, Biden reached an agreement with Mexico to re-start a Trump program called “Remain in Mexico” (which Biden denounced as “inhumane” when he ran for president). It forces people seeking asylum in the U.S. into Mexico, while their application supposedly waits to be reviewed. The U.S. and Mexico said they were addressing “humanitarian concerns” when they re-started “Remain in Mexico.” Mexico said it was participating on the condition of receiving “additional resources from the United States, destined for shelters and asylum seekers in a substantive way.”

That hasn’t happened. A tangle of political and legal battles around this program went on for months. But it resulted in tens of thousands of people being thrown into Mexican border towns and cities, where meager facilities for migrants have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of desperate people.

An NPR report on Juárez describes the situation along the border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean: U.S. policies “have transformed nearly every aspect of daily life in the city, particularly the downtown area. Street corners, parks and plazas are teeming with desperate people begging for food and money as they jostle for asylum appointment openings on the (U.S.) government’s new smartphone application, which has been rife with bugs since it was rolled out.” Howard Campbell, a cultural anthropologist from the University of Texas, El Paso, said, “What stands out is the extreme vulnerability of the migrants—not just to coyotes who want to exploit them but from Mexican law enforcement, too.”

U.S. enforcement of its southern border is also increasingly causing atrocities far from the actual border. On March 6, over 340 people, including 103 unaccompanied minors, were found crammed into an abandoned truck trailer in the Mexican state of Veracruz, hundreds of miles from the border. Last week, two people died from suffocation in a train car, and at least 10 were hospitalized, when they were found in the small town of Knippa, Texas, between the border and San Antonio.

A Nasty Dispute Covers Over Essential Democrat-Fascist Unity on Immigration

See also:

Intense conflict between Democrats and Republi-fascists over how to deal with the U.S.’s “border problem” erupted into an openly nasty exchange1 between Mayorkas and Ted Cruz, a fascist Texas senator, during a committee hearing on the border. Cruz constantly shouted over Mayorkas and wouldn’t allow him to speak. Cruz said, “The men and women of the Border Patrol … despise you, Mr. Secretary, because you are willing to let children be raped to follow political orders.” Mayorkas responded by calling Cruz and his comments “revolting.”

But Republi-fascists aren’t just hurling insults. They are preparing fascist, racist, vigilantism in Texas. A bill to create a special unit of state pigs to “repel” and arrest immigrants is making its way to the desk of Greg Abbott, the immigrant-hating Texas governor. It also provides for “law-abiding citizens without a felony conviction”—i.e., vigilantes—to be part of it. Another bill on the way would make it a state crime to enter Texas illegally, and punish someone with a previous felony conviction who entered the state illegally, with life in prison. All this is a preview of what these fascists intend to implement nationwide if they come to power—in addition to the enormous repression and militarization the Biden administration is already implementing.

It is important to grasp that, while these differences in the openness of the brutality in enforcing anti-immigrant measures are real, there is an essential unity between the Biden and fascist approaches: “Keep these people, whose countries we have destroyed, out of the U.S.; and persecute and victimize them if they get in or even come near.”

We Don’t Have an Immigration Problem—We Have an Imperialism Problem

When news of the fire in Ciudad Juárez reached the world, Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said it was “a reminder to the governments of the region of the importance of fixing a broken migration system and the risks of irregular migration.” Bullshit. The blood of the dead in Juárez, and the blood of thousands of other dead who tried to reach and cross the border, is on the hands of U.S. imperialism and its defenders.

As the end of Title 42 nears, ever more massive movements of migrants towards the border may begin. Republi-fascists like Cruz, Abbott, and Trump almost certainly will seize on this to try to create a major political crisis for the Biden administration, further enflame the vicious anti-immigrant sentiment that has tens of millions of people in the U.S. in its grip, and step up their overall fascist agenda. The federal government, under Biden’s direction (along with the state government of Texas, and possibly fascist vigilantes across the entire border), will implement a policy of massive expulsion, deportation, and detention. Upheaval along the border, and within countries south of the border may begin to spread and reverberate. Both the fascists and the Democrats will whip up American chauvinism, though of different “flavors.” All this is an expression of the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border is a focal point and social faultline of a deepening crisis of the imperialist system, not an immigration crisis.

Under Title 42, the government used a health measure to turn back all migrants and refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. Here immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande are stopped by Border Patrol, May 22, 2022.    Photo: AP

As Bob Avakian wrote in Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility Of Civil War—And The Revolution That Is Urgently Needed, A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap For This Revolution, such a situation 

can make people more open to questioning—in a real sense it can force people to question—the way things have been, and whether they have to stay that way. And this is all the more likely to happen if the revolutionary forces are out among the people shining a light on the deeper reality of what is happening, and why, and bringing out that there IS an alternative to living this way.

As the crisis along the border develops, the responsibility of “shining a light” on this crisis and the real way out will increasingly assert itself.

The Demonization, Criminalization and Deportations of Immigrants
An excerpt from Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution, a speech by Bob Avakian

End of “Title 42” Nears: Biden Administration Gears Up Repressive Anti-Immigrant Machinery

Both U.S. and international law recognize the right to apply for asylum. But the Trump/Pence fascists utilized a provision of the U.S. public health code called Title 42 to prevent refugees from applying for asylum at the U.S.’s southern border, under the bogus pretext of protecting the U.S. from the spread of COVID-19. This resulted in the “expulsion” of millions of people from the U.S.—they have been forcefully sent out of the country without even the pretense of a legal hearing.

Biden continued large-scale use of Title 42. Of the more than 2.6 million people expelled by Title 42, most have been during Biden’s presidency. Title 42’s use was always supposed to be temporary. When it seemed that it might end in late 2022, Republi-fascists howled that the U.S. under Biden would soon be “overrun with illegals,” leading to “total chaos” at the border. Led by the Christian-fascist attorney general of Texas, fascists in 19 states filed an “emergency appeal” to prevent the Biden administration from ending Title 42.

Now Title 42 is set to expire on May 11. As its end nears, a huge movement of migrants towards the border may begin. The Biden administration has been preparing massive repression for an already thoroughly militarized border: bringing in more thuggish Border Patrol agents with more and more powerful tools of repression; empowering them to deport and expel people more “efficiently”; and providing harsher penalties for those taken into Border Patrol custody.

If there is an eruption of conflict along the border when Title 42 ends, Republi-fascists almost certainly will seize on it to try to create a major political crisis for the Biden Administration, further enflame the vicious anti-immigrant sentiment that has tens of millions of people in the U.S. in its grip, and step up their overall fascist agenda. The federal government, under Biden’s direction (along with the state government of Texas, and possibly fascist vigilantes across the entire border), will implement a policy of massive expulsion, deportation, and detention.



1. To understand why the disputes over immigration between Democrats and Republi-fascists are so enflamed, even while they are in agreement over the need for harsh repression to “control the border,” and what all this means for the possibility of real revolution, read this article in Revolution. [back]