On Monday 27 March, at around 10pm a humanitarian catastrophe occurred at a migration detention centre, run by the National Migration Institute (INM) in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which resulted in (at the time of writing) around 40 deaths and more than 20 people being left in critical condition.
Inside the ‘shelter’ – in reality a prison for migrants – there had been unrest since the afternoon of that day. Migrants waiting to return or enter the United States for the first time were carrying out various legal activities to earn a little money, but they were held there against their will. By the evening, the desperation and dissatisfaction with the undignified treatment and lack of minimum conditions – such as the lack of water to drink – caused a small riot to break out. The migrants themselves set fire to their mattresses. It is clear what they were looking for with these actions: to get out, as some of them had families waiting for them.
The actions of the authorities in charge were, to say the least, criminal. In the videos that have been released, one can see the fire and smoke engulfing the place and the migration authorities simply not opening the door. In other words, they let the migrants die. This horrific scene is just one more inhumanity added to all that migrants have to suffer on their journey through Mexico to try to get to the USA. Lenin said that capitalism is horror without end. What we saw on Monday night is a clear illustration of this.
The role of American imperialism
The millions of young people, workers, women and children who are forced to flee their countries of origin, in almost no case do so for pleasure. Economic, political and social conditions have forced them to leave their families, friends, schools… everything, in search of a more dignified life.
Who can reproach these migrants for the need and the possibility to seek a better life? Every worker knows that this is what we do every day, to make this life more bearable for ourselves and our families. For those who migrate cannot have a dignified life in their neighbourhoods and cities.
The misery and violence, which are the main causes of emigration, are not accidental events, they are generated by the capitalist system, where a handful of parasites have huge amounts of money accumulated in their hands, while the vast majority have nothing.
In the American region, the role of US imperialism is directly responsible for much of this. In the Latin American countries, not only capitalist exploitation by the local oligarchies, but also impositions, plunder and humiliation by US imperialism, are endemic. The imperialists have been in charge of designing – and the local oligarchies have been in charge of obeying – the economic and social policy of these countries. This is where we can find those directly responsible for mass emigration.
The Latin American governments are the partners and accomplices in this imperialist policy, which they follow to the letter. They prefer to subjugate, impoverish and expel the people they govern rather than oppose the dictates of the powerful.
AMLO’s migration policy
The proof of what we are saying can be seen in black and white with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Despite the rhetoric of being “good neighbours” and conditions of “equal treatment” between the two nations, we know perfectly well that Mexico is economically, and therefore politically, dependent on its northern neighbour.
Let’s take a look at what the government's intention was before taking power, and what is now being applied, to illustrate this docility and subjugation.
In AMLO’s election campaign, as well as in the first months of his government, he talked about free transit for migrants, who would be offered work and residency if they wanted to stay in the country. He was fiercely opposed to the border wall that Trump pushed for and refused to use violence to deal with migration. “They are our brothers,” he said. However, the United States responded that, if Mexico took that position, it would impose tariffs on all goods entering US territory, so AMLO’s government implemented a 180-degree turn in its policies.
The newly formed National Guard was sent to the southern border to form a containment barrier for Latin American migration. There was no more talk of support and work for migrants and, in the last period, it was accepted that all those migrants who are awaiting the results of humanitarian visas should wait on the Mexican side. That is, US migration policy is being applied in Mexican territory.
Taking official data from the Migration Policy Unit of the Ministry of the Interior, AMLO's government has detained the most migrants in the entire history of Mexico, reaching a figure of 1,289,000. Of these, 71 percent have passed through immigration stations such as the one in Ciudad Juárez, where this catastrophe occurred.
Mexico has already surpassed the US as the country that deports the most Central Americans in the world.
The tragedy of 27 March is built on the acceptance of this criminal policy. Most of the migrants who were detained had been in the US waiting for their humanitarian visas. The US government decided to send them back to Mexico to wait here to start the process. Worse still, the US government is now proposing that this process can be done by means of an app, without giving a clear date for a response. This is a mockery of the migrants’ intentions.
What alternative can capitalism offer?
Migrants fleeing economic hardship or violence are the ultimate fruit of the crisis of capitalism. We cannot expect that a bureaucratic response will solve the migrants’ plight.
It is in the interests of the US government to permit some (albeit heavily restricted) migration, because it uses migrants to put downward pressure on the wages of US workers. It exploits reactionary white supremacist ideas to scapegoat migrants for the crisis of capitalism, which is the real source of intensifying poverty and exploitation.
The best the US government can offer is managed, piecemeal migration, but that does nothing to address the needs of Latino migrants.
The Mexican government should stop assuming the role of the US’s border guard over its migration policy. It should open the borders to free transit, like in its initial proposal, and allow migrants to work and live a normal life here.
For socialists, nothing is more important than the lives of workers and their families. Borders are a product of the oligarchies’ defending their economic interests.
The tragedy of the deaths of at least 40 migrants cannot go unmarked. Those directly involved should be arrested for failing to open the doors and to heed the protests. The Mexican government’s migration policy must be done away with and, above all, we must fight for a new society, where such atrocities will not be repeated.