In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, at least 40 migrants (as of this writing) hoping to enter the United States were burned alive in a deadly fire. Another 29 people were injured in the blaze. The migrants included people from all over Central and South America, from countries like Venezuela, Honduras, and Guatemala, all ravaged by economic poverty, social disintegration, climate destruction, and crime. Who’s to blame for this hideous destruction of human life? The Mexican President, Manuel Lopez Obrador, blames the migrants themselves. According to the limited sources available, the fire was started when the migrants learned they were going to be deported to their home countries. Why were they kept in detention while the fire raged? Why were they kept in prison-like conditions even though their only crime was the desire to move to a safer place for themselves and their families? Many questions remain to be answered.
One thing is sure, the real arsonists are in Washington, D.C. The Trump-era pandemic policy, Title 42 denies entry to the U.S. to migrants applying for asylum. Before Title 42, migrants had the right to apply and either enter the U.S. or await processing of their claims in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility. Title 42, which is still in place in spite of the easing of pandemic restrictions, simply expels people no matter what dangers they face in their home countries. Recently, the Biden administration signed off on continuing this policy into the future.
Since 2020, Title 42 has been used to turn 2.5 million people away at the border. This has led to 50,000 migrants being trapped in Mexico, often held in prison-like detention camps like the one in Juarez that burned. What is the alternative? Migrants who don’t wait in the immigration camps, who wait at the border themselves, are often robbed, tortured, kidnapped, and brutalized by Mexican criminal cartels who see them as easy prey.
What’s at stake here? The politicians in Washington are driven by racist anti-immigrant hysteria pushed by the Republican Party for years, now more than ever in the era of Trump and MAGA politics. The Democratic Party, afraid to show weakness and open itself to criticism, is carrying on the same policies even though its politicians speak in a less openly racist way about immigrants. But there is a real crisis at the border. Why are thousands upon thousands of immigrants trying to get in?
The U.S. is not innocent when it comes to the conditions in Central and South America. For example, the U.S. has tried everything from sanctions, to political manipulation, to instigating coups in order to try to overthrow the government of Venezuela. There are 5.9 million Venezuelans who have fled that country as a consequence. In 2009, a U.S.-backed coup in Honduras, and the subsequent economic policies of the government it installed, has led to crippling poverty and crime in that country. At least a million people have fled Honduras in the last decade. These are only the most recent examples. Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, and many more countries have suffered from U.S. interventions designed to keep labor cheap and, therefore, their populations poor, and to extract the maximum wealth from those countries’ natural resources. This has been a fertile ground for the growth of criminal networks, cartels, and gangs. The COVID crisis and global economic inflation, have only made things worse and driven more people out of their home countries.
Just because one is born on the other side of a border doesn’t mean they are less of a person and their life is worth less. Racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant hysteria are all tools to misdirect people’s anger, to blame immigrants for the deepening social problems that poor and working-class people in the U.S. face. This is the game the Republicans are playing — direct people’s anger and frustration at immigrants, while the wealthy enrich themselves, and the society decays. The Democrats today may not stoke the same racism, but they manage the same system. The crisis at the border is a symptom of capitalism, which extracts wealth by imposing poverty and misery on people all over the world. When the people whose lives are ruined try to escape the conditions created by capitalism, fleeing to a place like the United States where the wealth is concentrated, the doors are slammed shut on them. Now, more than ever, we cannot continue to tolerate a system that doesn’t value human life. As the economic and social crises generated by capitalism deepen, we will all suffer the consequences. That is, unless we fundamentally change the system.