While nonetheless successful in mitigating the number of migrants attempting to cross into the country, the Biden administration's strict immigration policies have managed to create a "combustible bottleneck along Mexico's northern border, with tens of thousands of frustrated migrants languishing in overcrowded shelters," writes The New York Times. And that delicate situation came to a head on Monday, when a protest at a migrant detention center in the border city of Ciudad Juárez led to a fire that killed at least 39 people and injured at least 28 others.
At least 68 men from Central and South America were living in the facility while border officials processed their requests for asylum. Though the investigation is ongoing, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has alleged that migrants started the fire in protest after being told they would be deported.
Immigration advocates and officials on both sides of the border have already begun pointing the finger as to who's responsible for the tragedy — some critics say the White House and its policies bear the blame, while others have decried the conditions of the Mexican government-run facility where the migrants were being kept.
What are the commentators saying?
Biden's vow to end Title 42 prompted thousands of hopefuls to travel to the border, where they have been forced to crowd and wait with no clear indication of what lies ahead. "It's desperation," Ricardo Samaniego, the county judge in El Paso, Texas, told the Times. "You dangle the end of Title of 42, and then you say, 'Nevermind,' and people get stuck." All that chaos has only been further compounded by issues with the subpar app migrants must use to submit their asylum requests.
What happened in Ciudad Juárez is a "horrifying indictment" of the migrant bottleneck and the immigration system, Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, said on Twitter. "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," he wrote. "We are all responsible."
As "historic numbers" of migrants arrive at the border, and "the U.S continues to implement policies that push asylum seekers back, humanitarian infrastructure in [Mexico] is increasingly strained, and more people are stuck in highly vulnerable situations," Rafael Velásquez, country director for the International Rescue Committee in Mexico, told CNN. To that end, human and immigration rights advocates have (at least partially) blamed what happened on the conditions inside the Mexican government's detention centers. "We've been working hard to limit this detention, because this is exactly the kind of thing that happens," Gretchen Kuhner, the director of the Mexico-based Women in Migration, told NBC News. "The Mexican government tries to call them other things, but people are detained there, under lock and key, and they cannot leave."
Mexican authorities announced they would issue arrest warrants for those allegedly responsible for the fire and investigate the blaze as a homicide, per CNN. The government has identified at least eight people that could be held liable, including two federal agents, one state migration agent, and multiple members of a private security company. No public employees or security guards attempted to open a padlocked door to help the migrants escape the burning building, said Sara Irene Herrerías Guerra, head of the Specialized Prosecutor for Human Rights of the Attorney General of Mexico, who also noted that one of the arrest warrants was for a migrant who allegedly started the fire.
The National Immigration Institute (INM) said that migrants injured in the fire would be eligible for visitor cards, "which will allow them to obtain legal immigration status in Mexico, valid for one year," CNN writes. "The immigration authority will provide visitor cards for humanitarian reasons to the injured and will cover the medical requirements for a speedy recovery," INM commissioner Francisco Garduño said during a visit to local hospitals where injured migrants are being treated. Unaccompanied minors who have witnessed or been victims of a crime while in Mexico are also eligible for a visitor card, per the INM.
Despite promises to reverse the controversial policy, the Biden administration has relied heavily on Title 42 ahead of the order's planned expiration in May. Meanwhile, officials are "considering other enforcement measures as tens of thousands of migrants continue to move in the Western Hemisphere," CNN adds.