By  Blanca Carmona / La Verdad

Ciudad Juárez – An immigration control operation by agents from the National Institute of Migration in a downtown Juárez hotel on Wednesday led to a confrontation between the agents and migrants – and the deployment of municipal police and Mexican Army and National Guard personnel.

The incident was triggered by the detention of several migrants following a raid and a series of alleged abuses by immigration agents, including the theft and destruction of identification documents, the theft of money and cell phones, and physical and verbal abuse, according to several witnesses at the scene.

Around noon Wednesday, immigration agents showed up at the Hotel Úrsula on Francisco Villa Street near 16 de Septiembre Avenue and went room-by-room asking migrants staying there for documentation proving they were allowed to be in Mexico, the witnesses said.

The National Institute of Migration did not respond to requests for comment.

But according to witnesses, an altercation began when immigration agents allegedly tried to arrest a woman, grabbed her by the hair and tried to push her out of the hotel. Dozens of migrants and passersby confronted the agents and attempted to prevent the woman from being arrested.

“When they drag a girl out by her hair to throw her in a patrol car, that’s when everyone rose up because it’s already an act of aggression,” one Venezuelan migrant at the hotel said. “They don’t want us to attack them, but they attack us. … We are not criminals. We are human beings who have passed through five countries and a jungle to get here. They are doing us wrong.”

The Venezuelan said that being sent back to Mexico City in southern Mexico or to Tapachula in the state of Chiapas bordering Guatemala by immigration agents won’t deter migrants from again trying to reach the U.S.-Mexico border through Juárez.

Several law enforcement agencies, including the Mexican Army and National Guard, responded to an altercation between migrants and immigration agents at a downtown Juárez hotel on Wednesday. (Courtesy La Verdad)

The incident occurred eight days after municipal police broke into the downtown Juárez cathedral – Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe – to search and detain migrants.

The Migration Ministry of the Juárez Catholic Diocese in late January denounced the persecution of migrants after reports of assaults, abuses and raids of migrants across the city. 

Father Javier Calvillo Salazar, director of the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter, at the time said the church was “worried and alarmed” about the raids and asked immigration officials to sit down with church and nonprofit groups helping the migrants to find solutions to the high number of migrants who were stuck in Juárez after not being able to request asylum into the United States with the extension of Title 42.

But the raids have reportedly continued: A migrant named Marie said that Wednesday marked the second time immigration agents had entered the hotel in about two weeks.

“We closed the door on them and they got a second key at the reception desk and opened the door,” she said. “There were three families in the room. We were going to jump out the window.”

Several law enforcement agencies, including the Mexican Army and National Guard, responded to an altercation between migrants and immigration agents at a downtown Juárez hotel on Wednesday. (Courtesy La Verdad)

A Juárez city official, who asked not to be named because he did not have authorization to speak about the incident, said that the migrants threw rocks at the immigration officers and local police officers. Two police officers were injured, and there was damage to an immigration vehicle, the official said.

Blanca Navarrete, director of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción, questioned the use of excess force by immigration agents. Although the agency has the authority to verify someone’s immigration status, she questioned why so much law enforcement presence was required. During the operation, 15 units from the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública Municipal, as well as five National Guard units and a tank from the Mexican Army were present, she said.

“What gets our attention is the way in which the operations are carried out,” Navarrete said. “The (immigration) institute must request collaboration in writing, in each operation, indicating the time, date and place, and notifying the authorities from which the collaboration is requested.”

Navarrete said that her organization and others have documented that Mexican immigration personnel take away and tear up migrants’ identification documents. But due to the fear of retaliation and their security, not all migrants affected file complaints, she added.