7:45 a.m. March 29: This story has been updated with the names of those killed or injured.
CIUDAD JUAREZ – “Justicia! Justicia! Justicia!” shouted a group of about 50 migrants and members of several human rights groups outside the Mexican National Institute of Migration in Juárez on Tuesday morning, demanding justice a day after dozens of people were killed in a fire in the institute’s detention center at the foot of the Stanton Street international bridge.
Across the street, holding a red rose, a Venezuelan woman prayed and sobbed silently.
“We were there not long ago. It could have been us dying in there like animals, like pigs being slaughtered in a fire,” said the woman, a migrant in her 20s who didn’t want to give her name. She said she was detained by Mexican immigration authorities last month and spent a few days in the processing center before being sent to Mexico City. She returned to Juárez days later. “Does it matter? Do our names matter to anyone?”
Mexican officials said late Tuesday that 38 people were killed in the fire. They released names and nationalities of people killed and injured in the fires. Most were from Central America.
The Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said 28 of the dead and injured were from that country. The facility held about 70 men from Central and South America, National Institute of Migration officials said. La Verdad reported that among those killed or injured were migrants who were detained by Mexican law enforcement officers cracking down on people panhandling, cleaning windows or selling candy at busy street intersections.
Mexican migration authorities would not comment on the fire that also sent about two dozen migrants to area hospitals other than to say the incident is being investigated. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a Tuesday morning press conference said the detained migrants set mattresses on fire to protest that they were going to be deported.
“If that’s true, it was so they would be let out,” the Venezuelan woman said, describing the detention facility as a “ratonera,” an overcrowded mousehole with toilets that don’t work and dirty floors where the migrants sleep covered with mylar emergency blankets. “They take your money, your cell phone, your shoe laces, everything. Then they go dump you in Mexico City or Chiapas.”
Another woman from Venezuela stood looking through the gate of the institute where mourners had placed candles, flowers, rosaries and posters denouncing migrants being “treated as criminals.” She said she was looking for her brother, whom she had not heard from in a few days. She wondered if he was among the dead.
“I can only pray that he was not,” she said, adding that she was interviewed briefly by the Mexican immigration officials and provided details on her brother. “I hope when my phone rings it’s him and not the morgue.”
She was met by family members, all of whom walked away hugging each other. The woman sobbed as they walked by the side of the building where the fire broke out, its walls charred and two white wrought iron doors covered in black while yellow caution tape dangled off them.
Mexican authorities have not provided more details of the incident, but a video circulating on social media from what appears to be a surveillance camera inside the facility shows two people behind bars, one throwing a small mattress on the floor and another trying to kick open a wrought iron door.
A fire is seen bursting out in the opposite corner and quickly spreading inside the detention space. Smoke quickly fills up the room as two uniformed officials in an open area on the opposite side leave the center.
The source of the video remains unclear.
‘Each person has a name’
At the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe cathedral not far from the facility, migrants and human rights groups held up flags from different countries as Juárez Bishop José Guadalupe Torres Campos prayed for those who died in the fire.
“Even though they are not physically here in body, they are present with us today,” Torres Campos said during a special Mass.
In El Paso, Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark Seitz said the deadly incident should serve as a call to address the needs of migrants at the border.
“This tragedy underscores the urgency of addressing the complex humanitarian crisis that has continued to unfold unabated in our border community,” Seitz said in a statement. “Our brother and sister migrants, who are in many cases fleeing extreme violence, persecution, and extreme poverty, deserve dignity, compassion, and the protection of their human rights as children of God.”
Dylan Corbett of Hope Border Institute on Twitter called those lost in the fire a “horrifying indictment.”
“The “systems of enforcement that we have erected to patrol people who migrate are steel hands in velvet gloves, and death is part of the overhead. We are all responsible.”
In a full statement, Corbett said the Biden administration’s aggressive posture on migration enforcement and deterrence have pressured Mexican authorities to stem migration in their country.
“Each person has a name and is a child to someone, a sibling to someone, a friend to someone,” he said.
“Those who blame the victims of the fire obscure the fact that these deaths are an indictment of the policies and structures implemented at large by both governments.”
Trapped in Mexico
The Biden administration has largely restricted migrants from seeking asylum in the United States at the border, extending the pandemic-era health emergency policy known as Title 42 to migrants from eight countries.
Title 42, which allows border enforcement agents to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico, is expected to expire in May when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.
The policy was set to expire in December, but got tied up in legal challenges in the court system. A record number of migrants made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border in anticipation of the policy ending, hoping to be able to request asylum and remain in the United States to await their court hearing.
Instead, thousands of migrants – more than 20,000 by some estimates and growing daily – are stuck in Juárez, where shelters are overcrowded and resources are dwindling.
In anticipation of a potential surge of migration at the border in May, the administration has proposed a temporary rule that all but eliminates access to asylum to those who arrive at the U.S-Mexico border without first seeking protection from their home country or in a country they travel through on their way to the United States. Instead, the U.S. government created an app where migrants can make an appointment to request asylum – a tool that has been overwhelmed and criticized as malfunctioning. The proposal, expected to go into effect in May, would be in place for two years.
Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, called on the Biden administration and “relevant branches of government” to restore access to asylum and introduce solutions that will provide safe and legal pathways to migrants.
“We are angry, but we are also tired. Angry and tired at having to make yet another statement in order to convince those in power on both sides of the border that it is unacceptable and inhumane to rest the weight of politics on the shoulders of those looking for safety at our borders,” she said in a statement. “This is another horrific tragedy resulting from punitive and racist enforcement and border deterrence policies that have only resulted in hundreds of migrant deaths.”
The dead and injured
Mexican officials released the names of 68 people they said were killed or injured in the fire. Here is the list, by country of origin. Information on survivors include the hospital in which they are being treated.
- Colombia: Julián David Villamil Arévalo.
- Ecuador: Jorge Luis Tumbaco Santiestevan.
- El Salvador: Andrés Fernando Calderón Carbajal, Brayan Eduardo Flamenco Quinteros, Carlos Alberto Pacheco Gutiérrez, Daniel de Jesús Varela Ramírez, Enrique Alfonso Melara Rivera, Inmer Onesi Molina Hernández (Hospital de la familia Femap), José Amílcar Portillo Solórzano, José Pedro Rivera García, Marvin Armides García Pacheco (IMSS 6), Milton Alexis Melara Melgar, Misael Antonio Aguilar López, Roberto Antonio Henríquez Evangelista.
- Guatemala: Bacilio Sutuj Saravia, Byron López Xol, Cristian Vidal Alexander Ventura Sacalxot (IMSS 6), Cruz Ernesto Chich Marroquín, Diego Sau Guarchaj, Diego Tzaj Ixtos, Edwin Gilberto Ixpertay Macario, Eliseo Gutiérrez Valdez (Hospital de la familia Femap), Elvis Adelmar Pérez Esteban, Enrique Coy Pop, Eyner Anibal García Dieguez, Fernando Pu Castro, Francisco Gaspar Rojche Chiquival, Francisco Javier Sohom Tzoc, Gaspar Josue Cuc Tzinquin, Gaspar Santiago Ixcotoyac Tum, Juan Fernando Quiñonez Montejo, Kevin Estuardo Cardona Lopez, Manuel Alexander Chox Tambriz, Marco Antonio Lucas Paiz, Marcos Abdon Tziquin Cuc, Miguel Rojche Zapalu, Miguel Sebastian Pedro Mateo, Raymundo Quib Tzalam, Roberto González Hernández, Rubbelsy Manrrique Pérez Rodríguez, Santiago Caal Tzul, Wilson Alexander Juárez Hernández.
- Honduras: Brayan Orlando Rodríguez Funes, Cristhian Javier Carranza Toro, Dikson Aron Córdova Perdomo, Edin Josué Umaña Madrid, Higinio Alberto Ramírez Torres (Hospital de la Familia Femap), Jesús Adony Alvarado Madrid, José Alfredo Hernández Muñoz, José Ángel Ceballos Molina, José Armando Rivera Muñoz, Juan Carlos De Jesús Gomez (Hospital de la Familia Femap), Juan Carlos Trochez Aguilar, Oscar Danilo Serrano Ramírez, Oscar Pineda Torres.
- Venezuela: Carlos Eduardo Rodríguez Cordero, unidentified man, Eduardo De Jesús Carballo López (Hospital De La Familia Femap), Jeison Daniel Catari Rivas (Hospital De La Familia Femap), Jesús Eduardo Velásquez Perdomo (Hospital De La Familia Femap), Joel Alexander Leal Peña, Orangel José López Guerrero, Orlando José Maldonado Pérez, Oscar José Regalado Silva, Rafael Mendoza Mendoza, Rannier Edelber Requena Infante, Samuel José Marchena Guilarte, Stefan Arango Morillo (Hospital de la Familia Femap).