Deadly fire highlights migration pressures on Mexico
SAN DIEGO– The fire that killed at least 40 people at a migrant detention center in Mexico came as countries in the Western Hemisphere come under pressure to deal with the extraordinary number of people fleeing their homes.
Mexico has expanded its network of dozens of detention centers while working closely with the United States to limit the movement of asylum seekers through its territory to the US border, including in Ciudad Juarez, where authorities said migrants set fire to mattresses on Monday evening during a detention. center after learning that they would be expelled.
Here are some questions and answers about the conditions and policies that led to one of Mexico’s deadliest events at a migrant detention center.
WHY WERE THESE MIGRANTS DETAINED?
Details have yet to be released, but Mexico has become the world’s third most popular destination for asylum seekers, after the United States and Germany. It is still largely a transit country, however, for those traveling to the United States
Asylum seekers must stay in the state where they submit their claim in Mexico, leaving many of them without work in Tapachula, near the country’s southern border with Guatemala.
Tens of thousands of people are also gathered in border towns, including Ciudad Juarez, often arriving illegally after harrowing journeys or by paying someone. A sprawling network of lawyers, repairers and intermediaries has sprung up to provide documents and advice to migrants who can afford to speed up the system.
According to a report released last month by the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin.
Mexico carried out more than 106,000 deportations last year, of which around 4 in 10 were sent to Guatemala or Honduras.
HOW DO US POLICIES WORK?
The Trump and Biden administrations have increasingly relied on Mexico to stem a flow of migrants that has made the United States the world’s most popular destination for asylum seekers since 2017, according to figures from the UN.
With 28 of the dead identified as Guatemalan citizens, Guatemalans were the largest group among those killed or injured in Monday’s fire, according to Mexico’s attorney general’s office. Others came from Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.
Guatemalans have been disproportionately affected by a US policy in place since March 2020 to return people who entered the United States illegally to Mexico. The practice suspended their rights to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing COVID-19.
Mexico takes back Guatemalans and certain other nationalities, while people from other countries are often released to the United States to pursue their cases in immigration court. This is due to the costs and diplomatic challenges of sending them home.
On May 11, the Biden administration plans to end the pandemic-era rule, known as Title 42, and replace it with a sweeping new policy that largely bars asylum to anyone who travels through Mexico without first seeking protection there.
The US Department of Homeland Security received more than 11,000 comments on the new policy before Monday’s deadline for public comment. The UN refugee agency said “key elements of the proposal are inconsistent with the principles of international refugee law”.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the main union representing asylum workers, opposes the change.
The proposal is subject to revisions based on public comment and will almost certainly be challenged in court.
Amid the uncertainty and rapid change, frustration runs high among many migrants over a beleaguered app called CBPOne, which was expanded in January to grant some exemptions to asylum restrictions. The United States admits approximately 740 migrants per day at land crossings through CBPOne.
About 80 migrants are admitted daily from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso using CBPOne, according to the Strauss Center.
WHY CIUDAD JUAREZ?
The Biden administration has come under intense pressure after the number of illegal border crossings reached its highest levels on record last year. Traffic has slowed sharply since January, when the administration extended humanitarian parole to Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans entering through an airport with a financial sponsor.
At the same time, Mexico has agreed to begin taking back people from these four countries who have crossed the border illegally. Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the policy on those four countries had been “extremely successful.”
Late last year, El Paso became the busiest of the nine Border Patrol sectors along the Mexican border, forcing many migrants to sleep outdoors or in overcrowded shelters upon their release and prompting Joe Biden to go to the border for the first time as president.
El Paso, with its vast network of shelters in Ciudad Juarez, remained the busiest corridor for illegal crossings in February, when migrants were arrested more than 32,000 times. Nearly half of these incidents involved Mexicans.
Associated Press writers Maria Verza in Mexico City and Rebecca Santana in Washington contributed.