Héctor Rolando Barrientos Dardón died on Tuesday during a fire at the Tenosique Migration Station, an immigrant detention facility near Mexico’s border with Guatemala in the state of Tabasco. His death occurred during a protest by several men who were denouncing their ongoing detention in the overcrowded facility, a situation which puts their lives at risk in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the protest a sleeping mat caught on fire. According to witness testimony collected by staff at La 72, a nearby shelter and human rights organization we work with, guards at the migration station refused to let people leave the facility, locking the gates and threatening to beat anyone attempting escape, including men, women and children. As a result of the fire, Barrientos, a forty-two year old man from Guatemala, was killed, and fourteen other people were seriously injured. A group of migrants did finally break down the door to the men’s area where the fire began and were able to get people out. Barrientos was seeking asylum in Mexico. According to this press report, he should have been released on Thursday, April 2 to pursue his case.
Migrante hondureño relata parte de lo sucedido al interior de la cárcel migratoria de Tenosique, #Tabasco, al momento del motín e incendio, donde una persona perdió la vida.@CNDH @ONUDHmexico @ACNURamericas @OPSOMSMexico pic.twitter.com/i3aAkyWUj7— Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (@MMMesoamericano) April 1, 2020
Our partners in the Franciscan Network on Migration, La 72 house for migrants , issued a press release denouncing the actions of guards and local police, as well as the ongoing failure of Mexico’s National Institute on Migration (INM) to secure the rights of migrants in Mexico. They also expressed concern that the National Human Rights Commission did not send anyone to investigate the fire, despite the Commission’s earlier call on March 19th for the INM to “implement precautionary measures to safeguard the physical, psychological, health and life conditions of migrants housed in immigration stations.”
In the same press release, La 72 raised additional concerns about the subsidiary impact of the U.S. policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico, which is straining an already unsustainable situation:
Last weekend we received in La 72 three Honduran people: a mother, with her 15-year-old daughter, and a male adult, deported from the United States and Mexico. They first crossed into Texas, where they were captured by border patrol agents and immediately deported to Reynosa, remaining in custody of Mexican immigration. During their confinement at the Immigration Station, the mother and daughter were denied consular representation and the possibility of requesting refuge in Mexico. They were told they would have to do so in the south. On March 24, they signed their deportation order, indicating that they would be returned across the border from Talisman, Chiapas….The INM breached the deportation order and transferred them to the border port of El Ceibo, in Tabasco, where they were forced to cross through a blind spot, irregularly and clandestinely, towards Guatemala in order to continue on their journey to Honduras. The Guatemalan army intercepted them at the border and returned them to Mexico again. These abusive practices not only violate fundamental rights, such as the principle of non-refoulement, but also put the life and integrity of the deported persons at risk.
The release ends with three demands:
Yesterday, La 72 joined hundreds of other organizations in Mexico in issuing a second statement further denouncing Mexican immigration authorities and calling for the firing of the head to National Institute on Immigration. The letter notes that the death in detention was the result of systemic abuses. They also state that, “keeping people in immigration detention, at serious risk of Covid-19 infection, is a violation of human rights and an attack on the lives of migrants and those who work in immigration stations.” For these reasons the organizations demand “the immediate dismissal of the INM commissioner.” You can read the full text of the organization letter here (in Spanish)
We are on the second to last day of Detention Watch Networks’s #FreeThemAll National Week of Digital Action, March 30 – April 4, to demand the liberation of all people in immigration detention – please keep up the pressure!
Day 5 – Friday, April 3: Care not Cages: Public Health Department Accountability Day
Detention centers are a hotbed of infection. The rapid spread of mumps that occurred last year foretells what could happen when people inside ICE custody are exposed to COVID-19. As we know that medical standards developed and implemented by ICE have proven inadequate time and again leading to preventable deaths of people in their custody. Thousands of doctors have already spoken out on the need to immediately release people from immigration detention —now we must call on public health officials to hear this demand and act urgently.
We demand that public health departments act for our collective health to #FreeThemAll, with particular urgency for people on hunger strike, a rising trend in detention centers nationwide. People are bravely speaking out the only way they can — by refusing meals, knowingly weakening their immune systems. Lives are in jeopardy and people in detention are desperate to be released immediately as COVID-19 continues to spread.
Overview of today’s day of action and how you can support:
For the week of action schedule of events, visit Detention Watch Network’s Action Guide.
Resources to support your work:
Drawing connections between immigrant detention and mass incarceration.
As part of this work, there is a webinar being offered this afternoon, put together by several organizations working on decarceration in the context of the threat of COVID-19 to those behind bars.
You can also help to amplify social media posts from Detention Watch Network and local partners.
Some related news….
Federal Prisons go on total lock down (from CNN)
The US federal prison system will move to a heightened state of lockdown as it fights the spread of coronavirus behind bars, the Bureau of Prisons announced.
Beginning Wednesday, inmates will be confined to their cells for a two-week period, with exceptions for certain programs and services like mental health treatment and education.
Limited group gatherings — like access to prison stores, laundry, showers and the telephone — will be “afforded to the extent practical,” the agency said.
The strict protocols come just days after the first coronavirus death in the federal prison system — at a Louisiana prison over the weekend. As of Monday, there were 28 inmates in federal custody with confirmed coronavirus diagnoses, in addition to 24 agency employees.
Rikers Island: More than 300 cases, 2 staff have died
[T]he rate of infection in the city jails has continued to climb, and by Monday, 167 inmates, 114 correction staff and 23 health workers had tested positive. Two correction staff members have died and a “low number” of inmates have been hospitalized, officials said.
More than 800 inmates are being held in isolation or in quarantined groups because someone in their jailhouse tested positive for the virus, the president of the correction officers union said. A medical building that includes the only contagious disease unit on Rikers Island is now full of sick detainees, officials said. The unit has 88 beds.
Fear of the virus has grown among inmates and correction officers, several said in interviews. Some incarcerated people have refused to do the work assigned to them or have started disturbances, demanding more cleaning supplies and masks. Others said that correction officers who are assigned to taking people to clinics have ignored their requests for medical attention. Some correction officers said they did not have the necessary equipment to protect themselves from the virus, and that they had received little guidance from leadership.
In addition to demanding release of people incarcerated in this country, we are also demanding that ICE end enforcement actions that put communities at risk. Of crucial importance is the need to end deportation flights to Central America. Here is a petition from LAWG making that demand, and some related news articles below it.
Latin American Working Group Petition on Deportations, To Trump and DHS Acting Head Chad Wolf
We ask you to immediately stop the deportations of women, men, and children to Mexico and Central America. This is a global health crisis that requires urgent public health responses. Deporting people back to their countries or to countries they do not even know without adequate medical screenings when travel is restricted worldwide is inhumane and dangerous. Central American nations are especially ill-prepared to handle the pandemic even without these continued deportations. Closing the U.S. border to asylum seekers and returning them to wait in refugee camps in Mexico puts them at grave risk.
We urge you to stop deportations and these policies once and for all, and instead screen and process those seeking protections at our border humanely and fairly. U.S. policies must ensure the health and safety of all our communities during this public health crisis, and not send the most vulnerable away. Now is the time for unity and compassion, not division and fear.
Deportations to Central America threaten to spread COVID-19 (The Nation)
For detained immigrants, the threat of deportation—now during a pandemic—still looms. The administration has seemingly doubled down on removals, despite banning international travel from certain countries affected by the virus and trying to shut down the US-Mexico border. In an emergency budget request sent to Congress on March 17, the White House asked for $249 million in ICE funding, some of which would fund deportation flights. “With fewer commercial flight options,” the letter reads, “ICE charter aircraft are needed” so deportations can continue…
Detention and deportation not only increase the risk of transmission for immigrants in ICE custody—they also risk exporting the virus from the United States to countries unprepared to deal with mass outbreaks. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador take in thousands of deported nationals every month, and they may be forced to continue doing so even as the pandemic spreads.
Guatemalan Deported from the U.S. tests positive for Coronavirus (Al Jazeera)
A Guatemalan man who was deported from the United States last week has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Guatemalan Health Ministry said late on Sunday.
A spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Health Ministry told Al Jazeera the 29-year-old man from Momostenango, Totonicapan, was deported last Thursday on a flight chartered by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The flight, with at least 40 others on board, originated in Mesa, Arizona, according to the Guatemalan Migration Institute.