News » Asylum Campaign Mourns the Preventable Loss of Life in Tragic Juárez Migration Center Fire

Asylum Campaign Mourns the Preventable Loss of Life in Tragic Juárez Migration Center Fire

Help Defend Asylum

CGRS relies on the generous support of people like you to sustain our advocacy defending the human rights of refugees. Make a gift today!


Mar 28, 2023

The #WelcomeWithDignity campaign for asylum rights mourns the tragic and preventable loss of life caused by the fire at the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. 

The region has seen several other tragic incidents involving refugees and people seeking asylum in recent months–an undeniable result of the dangerous conditions and criminalization that people seeking safety face. These tragedies show us, once again, the need for a safe and humane system to process people seeking protection. The United States and Mexican governments must work together to uphold asylum.

“This unspeakable tragedy is the direct result of U.S. and Mexican policies that punish, lock up, and turn away people seeking safety,” said Karen Musalo, Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “For years the United States has illegally denied refugees their right to seek asylum at our southern border, returning them to perilous conditions in Mexico where they have been kidnapped, assaulted, incarcerated, and deported to the very dangers they fled. Many have lost their lives. The Biden administration has doubled down on this deadly approach and is now poised to replace Title 42 expulsions with a near-total ban on asylum at the border. This ban is premised on the notion that it is ‘safe’ for refugees to seek protection in Mexico and other countries they pass through on their journey. This tragedy is a painful reminder that that could not be further from the truth. Our leaders have blood on their hands.”

“Last night 41 families lost someone dear to them and others are praying for the lives of the surviving victims of the fire in an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  Organizations in Mexico and all over the world are sickened by the preventable deaths of migrants and asylum seekers, once again at the hands of the Mexican government.  People who are seeking protection should not be detained.   Mexican law requires that detention be the last resort and the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM) is responsible for the safety of all people in its custody.   The Mexican National Human Rights Commission found the INM responsible for the death of a Honduran man who suffocated in a fire in a detention center in Tabasco in 2020.  We have been down this horrific road before, and we need the Mexican and U.S. governments to guarantee access to asylum for people seeking protection in our region.   Title 42 expulsions, the planned Title 8 returns to Mexico and the proposed asylum ban all contribute to the inhuman conditions that migrants face in Mexico and along the border," said Gretchen Kuhner, Director, Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI), Mexico City. 

“We are in mourning again in the wake of another horrific loss of life for our peoples and communities. While the media reports “28 Guatemalans or Central Americans,” we know that the majority of those forced to migrate are our Maya relatives. As Maya peoples we are killed twice in these instances, they kill our identity and they kill our bodies,” said Geronimo Ramirez, Maya Ixil Interpreter, Community Leader and  Organizer with the International Mayan League. “If the Guatemalan government respected the rights of the Maya and addressed the systemic oppression that forces us to flee, 28 families would not be grieving today. But just as the Guatemalan government is responsible so are, the Mexican and U.S. governments. These colonial states have Indigenous blood on their hands. We hold these governments responsible and demand justice! We call on our allies and the media to recognize our Indigeneity and not be complicit in the erasure of our identities.”   

“We are horrified by the loss of dozens of lives last night in our border community. Each person has a name and is a child to someone, a sibling to someone, a friend to someone,” says Dylan Corbett, Executive Director, Hope Border Institute. “The Biden administration’s increasingly aggressive posture on migration enforcement and deterrence first-strategies at the border have pressured Mexican authorities to stem migration in an already overcrowded and under-resourced system resulting in fatal tragedies such as the one we witnessed last night. In the months following the Biden administration’s expansion of Title 42, we have witnessed increased enforcement actions by Mexican authorities and the detention of persons in the facility where the fire broke out. Those who blame the victims of the fire obscure the reality that these deaths are an indictment of the policies and structures implemented at large by both governments.”

“The news of the fire at the migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez is devastating. This is proof of the extremely urgent need to ensure that there are systems in place to provide safety for people in need of international protection,” said Rafael Velásquez, Country Director for the IRC in Mexico. “At the IRC, we have constantly warned about the risks that people on the move experience in Mexico, whether they are trying to apply for asylum here or are in transit and trying to find safety in the United States. Families and individuals encounter dangers that span from gender-based violence, to human trafficking and organized crimes. As Mexico receives historic numbers of new asylum claims and the U.S. continues to implement policies that push asylum seekers back into Mexico, humanitarian infrastructure in the country is increasingly strained and more people are stuck in highly vulnerable situations. These risks are particularly tangible in cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, such as Ciudad Juárez, which for years have seen increasing numbers of displaced people as new and stricter border policies have been put in place. Currently, our teams at the border are seeing the needs of asylum seekers deepen as they are forced to juggle ensuring their subsistence with the need to wait—sometimes for weeks or months—for the opportunity to get an appointment through the CBP One app to present their cases at a port of entry. The IRC continues calling for global solutions for what is a global challenge: the displacement crisis we are seeing throughout Latin America, including Mexico. These solutions must include measures to protect asylum seekers regardless of their origin and situation. Such measures must include, on one hand, the end of U.S. border policies that bar people’s right to seek asylum, but also the need for enough support and funding from the international community to strengthen the asylum and protection systems along Mexico’s migration corridors.”

“Reports tell us at least 41 human beings lost their lives while they awaited a chance to seek protection in the United States. Some of them were denied their chance to seek asylum because of Title 42. None of them should have been detained for seeking protection in the first place. As the Biden administration considers instituting an asylum ban when Title 42 comes to an end, they must remember these are the conditions people will face,” said #WelcomeWithDignity Interim Campaign Manager Bilal Askaryar. “I am praying for their families and their communities. We call on the United States and Mexican governments to uphold the right to seek asylum and  build immigration policies and practices that allow people to do so with dignity.”

“As we see the news about the fire at a migrant processing center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico that has claimed dozens of victims, we want to pray for all those whose lives have been lost and the lives that are forever impacted by this disaster,” said Joan Rosenhauer, Executive Director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.  This tragedy underscores the perilous conditions migrants are subjected to and the need for our elected officials to come together to fix a broken immigration system so that it does not subject those seeking protection to further danger.”

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of these lives in this terrible tragedy,” 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 and put in detention under hazardous circumstances, when they should have access to humane, orderly and equitable conditions and processes at the border.”

“The devastating loss of life and injuries from a fire at an immigration detention facility in Ciudad Juárez is yet another heartbreaking tragedy resulting from border policies that do not recognize the humanity and human rights of people seeking refuge,” said Laurie Ball Cooper, U.S. Legal Services Director, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “That it occurred just feet from the U.S. border underscores the need for the Biden administration to restore the U.S. asylum system rather than continue pushing migrants back into unsafe conditions in Mexico.”

“This loss of life is tragic. The women, men, and children we lost in this fire serve as a devastating reminder of how dangerous the road to safety can be. Those who died were seeking a new home, free from violence and persecution, in the hopes that the generations that followed would not know the pangs of hunger, the sleepless nights of fear, nor the worries of their children growing up with an uncertain future,” Said Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Church World Service. “Seeking asylum is a legal right; any policy that forces the vulnerable to remain in danger is not only against that right, but against the spirit of our nation. We have a duty, not just to the legacies of those who died in this tragedy, but to all those fighting for a brighter future, to overturn immigration policies that force the persecuted to live their lives susceptible to life-threatening risks. We pray for those affected by this tragedy, and in their stead demand the reversal of inhumane immigration practices so we can honor the legal right to asylum.”

“Last night’s incident in Mexico is heartbreaking, and it is yet another sign of how desperate migrants are for a chance at a better life and how broken our immigration system is,” said Vanessa Cardenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “The recent loss of life along the border is a result of a dysfunctional system where visas and legal channels are few, and the need for safety and survival is great. Our current policies of deterrence are failing. Rather than turning back, many migrants are willing to risk death or serious injury if it means successfully making it into the United States. At a time when America needs immigrants to help fuel our economic growth, when families are separated by borders with no means to reunite, and deaths along the border or en route to it are high, we must find a better way. These tragedies make it clear that the debate on immigration is not just about political stunts, sham hearings, or Fox News sound bites, but rather about real people risking their lives to achieve the American Dream.”

“We are heartbroken to think of the migrants who left their homes seeking safety and stability only to die in a fire while locked in a detention facility, said Anna Gallagher, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. “Our faith teaches us that all people bear equal dignity, but migrants are often treated as disposable, valued less than others and subject to outrageous treatment. Under Title 42, many migrants hoping to apply for asylum in the U.S. have been sent back to Mexico to await processing, where we know they live in dangerous conditions, vulnerable to criminalization and discrimination as they are cycled in and out of shelters and detention centers. While the details of this fire are still unknown, we know that dangerous policies and practices by both governments have contributed to overcrowding of facilities, breakdowns in cooperation and the politicization of migration. As Title 42 is expected to end in May, we pray for the creation of safe, humane conditions respectful of migrants’ dignity, and equitable pathways for them to access their legal right to seek asylum — a right under national and international law.”

“Today we mourn the 39 individuals, who dreamed of finding safety and building a new life for themselves, who died while trapped in detention. U.S. policy is directly responsible for this tragedy and more,” said Quixote Center Executive Director Dr. Kim Lamberty. “At the behest of the U.S., Mexico is rapidly expanding its immigration detention system, and apprehended 307,568 migrants in 2021. Human rights defenders have denounced horrific conditions and human rights abuses in Mexico’s detention centers, and this tragedy is a horrific consequence. Deterrence through cruelty does not work; it only serves to make the journey to find safety more deadly. We urge the U.S. government to welcome the survivors and their families, and work with Mexico to create safe and humane asylum processing without the use of immigration detention.”

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the fire in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico,” said Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF Associate Director of the Franciscan Action Network. “This tragedy points to the terrible conditions in which people are living at the border and the urgent need for safe passage for people seeking protection. This senseless loss of life is the very reason we work to advocate for the right to seek asylum and call for immigration policies and practices that allow people to do so with dignity.”

“There are no words that can adequately describe or alleviate the terrible suffering of the victims of this horror and their families. People seeking asylum should not be criminalized and locked in migrant jails,” said Eleanor Acer, Senior Director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First. “Let’s call it what it is. These deaths did not occur in a ‘dormitory’ or a ‘shelter,’ but in a detention center – a jail for migrants. There must be a full investigation into the conditions and supervision of this facility. Mexico and the United States must abandon their xenophobic rhetoric and policies that paint people seeking asylum as threats or burdens; this means rejecting detention and barriers to asylum, including family detention and the Biden administration’s proposed asylum ban.”

“We mourn the loss of lives and loss of peace for the survivors of this terrible tragedy. Seeking asylum should never result in severe injury or even death at an immigration detention facility, said Margaret Cargioli, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “The Biden administration’s current asylum policies — including the continued use of Title 42 and the proposed asylum ban — are punitive and unlawfully prevent people in need of protection from seeking asylum in the United States, trapping refugees in dangerous and deplorable conditions in Mexico. How many people have to die before we finally say that enough is enough and prioritize restoring humanity to our nation’s immigration system?”

“We mourn the lives lost in the migrant detention center fire in Ciudad Juárez, made all the more devastating by how foreseeable and needless this tragedy was,” said Sue Roche, Executive Director at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine. “A just and humane asylum system without deadly deterrence and detention is possible. Creating new pathways to protection is possible. With a heavy heart, we call on this administration to abandon policies based on cruelty, to learn from the past and this tragedy today, and forge a system that welcomes and upholds the basic human rights of those searching for safety and survival.” 

“These people were awaiting their chance to seek protection in the United States, with hopes of safety and a new beginning. But instead, they were met with despair,” said Kassandra Gonzalez, Staff Attorney with the Beyond Borders Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “This tragedy is the result of the Biden administration’s harmful policies that fail to uphold the basic tenets of our asylum system, policies which are set to become even more restrictive with the proposed asylum ban once Title 42 ends. Forcing people to wait for months on end in a facility that is not equipped to protect them is a direct failure of our immigration system. Today, we mourn the loss of loved ones at the National Migration Institute and tomorrow, TCRP will continue fighting for the right for everyone seeking safety at our borders.”

“We mourn the devastating and preventable loss of dozens of lives in a detention facility in Ciudad Juárez last night,” said Kimiko Hirota, policy advisor for the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Reports indicate that some of the migrants were returned to Mexico under Title 42, a policy that has blocked access to asylum in the United States for more than three years. Rather than continue down a road of failed deterrence policies and human rights violations, we urge the US and Mexican governments to prevent more tragedies by implementing policies and practices that restore access to asylum—not restrict that access.”