The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The U.S. Lit the Fire in Juárez

Apr 3, 2023

A fire in a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, killed at least 39 people, right across the border from El Paso, Texas. Most of those who died were from Guatemala. They had not been charged with any crime, but were held by the Mexican government, pending deportation.

Videos available online show the horror: as the blaze spread, guards walked away, keeping people locked in to die in the burning building.

Mexico’s response was to charge six people—three government migration officials, two private security guards, and the imprisoned man who they say started the fire to protest the migrants’ pending deportation.

Ciudad Juárez is today packed to overflowing with people fleeing desperate situations in the countries south of Mexico. And, as everywhere, the existence of huge numbers of desperate people often creates callousness and violence among those charged with containing the problems desperation might cause.

The actions of the guards were horrific—keeping people locked up as they burned to death. But that is the crux of the entirety of U.S. policy: trying to keep people locked up south of the border as they are consumed by fires lit by U.S. imperialism across this whole part of the world.

In addition to a series of coups throughout the decades, the U.S.-led dirty wars in the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras during the 1980s were funded in part by drug cartels and gangs. This helped set up the violence that many migrants are fleeing today. And support for military governments linked to the gangs has never stopped. For instance, the brother of former U.S.-backed president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, was recently convicted in a U.S. court for working with drug cartels—after the U.S. helped install his brother’s government in a coup in 2009!

These coups and occupations have been aimed above all at maintaining U.S. economic domination of this whole region. The countries of Central America were called “banana republics” because U.S. banana companies controlled their economies and governments. That hasn’t changed, even if today, workers in those countries are just as likely to make clothing and auto parts as to grow fruit.

For the last ten years, the U.S. has used one legal maneuver after another to block the vast majority of migrants from even applying for asylum in the U.S. It has pressured the Mexican government to do its dirty work, blocking migrants from getting to the crossing points. Now thousands upon thousands of people fleeing the violence and extreme poverty created by U.S. imperialism are stuck in cities like Juárez, or Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego.

The director of the migration services office in Tijuana reported that the city’s 30 shelters can hold 5,600 people, but about 15,000 migrants are in the city. The director of an overflowing Catholic shelter in that city reported, "Every day I turn away at least 10 families with children." Many people wind up on the streets, or sleep in construction sites or abandoned buildings.

Groups of migrants beg for money at intersections around these cities. An eight-month-pregnant woman from Venezuela with two children held up a sign in Juárez saying "Help us to eat and not sleep in the street." Others sell food on the streets, or work the few available odd jobs.

Blocked from applying for asylum in the U.S. legally, many try to cross the border into the U.S. illegally. If they make it, they will join the ranks of the undocumented, and the U.S.-based capitalist class will be able to take advantage of their lack of rights, driving down wages for everyone.

Or, they could choose to look for work in the Mexican border cities where they find themselves. Just like in the U.S., companies in these cities will be able to offer them the worst working conditions and wages, and use their desperation as a club against other workers. The economies of these cities are dominated by factories linked to U.S.-centered supply chains, so whether these migrants stay in Mexico or become undocumented immigrants in this country, U.S. companies stand to benefit from this human crisis created by U.S. policies.

Workers in this country have the same interests as these migrants. They are not our enemies—they are part of our class. And we have the same enemies: the U.S. capitalist class and its government, which drive this migration crisis, create the humanitarian disaster in Mexico, and use the desperation of people—wherever they are—to attack the working class everywhere.