By Sharon Samber
At least 39 people died and dozens were injured Monday night in a fire at the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, an area where HIAS is active in assisting asylum seekers.
HIAS works in more than 10 communities along the U.S.-Mexico border providing vital services to those seeking asylum in Mexico or who need information to navigate the complex U.S. asylum system. HIAS said in a that it is ready to assist those affected by the fire.
“As we await updates, we expect an explanation from officials about the cause of this terrible tragedy, and the reasons why these migrants were in detention,” said HIAS Mexico Country Director Blanca Lomeli. “Policies in effect in both Mexico and the U.S. have created a situation where asylum seekers are treated like criminals, when they should have access to a humane, orderly, and equitable process at the border.”
Use of detention centers at the border has been increasing in recent months and people have been heading to the U.S. border in expectation of an end to Title 42, a pandemic-era policy which gives the U.S. government the power to quickly expel migrants who cross the border.
At the same time, the Biden administration has proposed a series of policies which together, advocates claim, would result in a virtual asylum ban. The ban, which could take effect May 11, would make people ineligible for asylum unless they present themselves at a port of entry at a time and place they pre-scheduled via the Department of Homeland Security’s mobile application, CBP One, or they can prove that they have sought and been denied asylum in a country through which they traveled on their way to the U.S. HIAS believes this change would result in people being denied their legal right to seek asylum, regardless of the manner of their entry, sending many back to extremely dangerous situations.
HIAS spoke out against this proposed rule, asked the administration to withdraw it immediately, and collected more than 5,000 comments from supporters asking the administration not to implement the new policies. HIAS is also reaching out to congressional offices to encourage them to pressure the administration to repeal the rule, and is organizing a national Jewish clergy letter and an open letter from clergy who visited the border recently.
HIAS continues to call for safe and legal pathways for refugees and migrants, as well as improved protections for their rights from a regional perspective. As part of its response, HIAS is providing mental health and legal support to survivors and families affected by this incident.