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UCLA faculty express concern over unsafe conditions at United States-Mexico border

Bunche Hall is pictured. Following a March fire at a migrant detention center, UCLA professors express concern over border conditions. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Jessica Gonzalez

May 31, 2023 11:59 p.m.

This post was updated June 1 at 11:23 a.m.

UCLA faculty have expressed concern about unsafe conditions in migrant detention centers at the United States-Mexico border.

A fire began at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on March 28, resulting in the deaths of 38 individuals within the facility.

The fire began as an act of protest from individuals held within the center. Detained individuals set their mattresses on fire to protest inhumane holding conditions, according to NBC News. Many of those affected originated from Central American countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported two deaths May 17 and 18 involving Border Patrol, with one person not receiving medical attention and the other being fatally shot by an officer.

Leisy Abrego, chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies, said detention centers’ failure to provide aid to the migrants in the fire displays how migrant communities continue to be dehumanized by state officials.

Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, project director for the UCLA Labor Center, said the conditions at these migrant detention centers are poor because of a lack of government investment in proper resources, leading to difficulty in handling large influxes of individuals at the border. He added that migrants face additional dangers at detention centers, such as the threat of human trafficking and other forms of violence.

Rivera-Salgado also said poor infrastructure was a leading factor in the centers’ inability to house migrants awaiting decisions on U.S. immigration cases.

Abrego said she believes that since border agencies cannot detain every migrant that attempts to cross the border, they try to deter them by making the border crossing process as dangerous as possible, putting the lives of these individuals at risk.

Talia Inlender, deputy director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy, said placing migrants in carceral spaces, such as the detention center in Ciudad Juárez, exacerbates the existing issues surrounding migration by endangering the lives of the detained individuals as they don’t have bodily autonomy.

“When you incarcerate people and you strip them of their liberty, you strip them of their freedom. You put them in facilities where they can’t have control over their bodies or their lives. You are putting them in a place of risk,” Inlender said. “The result of that, unfortunately, has been severe harm and sometimes death for folks who are put in that position.”

In order to prevent tragedies such as these from occurring again in the future, individuals must remain knowledgeable about these issues and ensure that electoral decisions and changemakers support migrant communities, Abrego said. She added that UCLA students are uniquely positioned to make change because of their access to a wide variety of experts on immigration-related topics at the university.

“We have a moral obligation to stay informed, to understand how our own taxes fund this sort of devastation and to question the way that people are being represented,” Abrego said. “To question the reasons that politicians give us for why people are coming and why they’re dying in a fire that could have been prevented.”

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Jessica Gonzalez
Gonzalez is a national news and higher education contributor. She is a first-year transfer student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in Chicana/o and Central American studies.
Gonzalez is a national news and higher education contributor. She is a first-year transfer student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in Chicana/o and Central American studies.
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