JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – With the strokes of a brush dipped in blue paint, Jesus Regalado wrote his brother’s name on the sidewalk of a government building on the Mexican side of the Stanton Street Bridge.
A blue tent provided him cover from the sun. Lighted candles illuminated the enclosure and reminded him of the 40 lives lost to a fire inside the nearby building no more than 10 days ago.
“I don’t want this to be forgotten. I want justice from the Mexican authorities and punishment for those who need to be punished,” the Venezuelan migrant in his 20s said. “I don’t want this to happen to any more migrants. Not because they are migrants but because they are human beings. Just like it happened to them, it could happen to me or to you here.”
Jesus is still grieving for his brother Oscar Regalado Silva, one of the victims of the fire. The two brothers came to Juarez after being turned back at another Mexican border city while attempting to seek asylum in the U.S. Oscar’s hopes for a better outcome died in the fire; Jesus was looking for a place to sleep somewhere else in Juarez when the blaze broke out at the detention center.
Outside the tent where Jesus painted, men, women and children drew the names of other victims on the sidewalk and on cloths they planned to affix to the gates of the National Migration Institute (INM) building where 38 migrants burned to death or succumbed to smoke inhalation on March 27 and two more were fatally injured.
The president of Mexico said migrants started the fire in protest over rumors they would be deported back to their home countries. A leaked security video shows guards and INM officers leave as smoke engulfs the area and at least one migrant can be seen trying to kick open a cell door.
A Mexican judge on Tuesday ordered four INM officers and private security guards to stand trial on omission of care leading to injury and death. A Venezuelan migrant named Jaison is facing homicide charges for allegedly starting the fire.
Carlos Mayorga, a member of an activist group called Angeles Mensajeros, said the Mexican government should demolish the building and build a park honoring migrants in its place.
“We demand this building be torn down to its last rock, that we erase the memory of impunity and government indifference,” Mayorga said. “We want this building to be destroyed and a memorial to migrants who come to the border to be constructed.”
Mayorga said Mexico needs to send a strong message to its employees and the public that migrants should be welcomed. That way maybe someone will choose to open a door instead of walking away, he said.
“We are here to support our peers and so this will not happen again,” said Paul Guerrero, a Venezuelan migrant. “They were people, not animals. They had parents, they had children. They had dreams and ambition and plans. Now, because of someone’s irresponsibility, they will not live to see their dreams; they are going home (in a coffin).”
The Mexican government last week said it would permanently close the “migrant station” where the fire happened. But on Wednesday, soldiers patrolled the parking lot and government employees and civilians could be seen going in and out of the building. No migrants are being held there anymore, though, according to local Juarez officials.