EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A violent assault against more than a dozen Cubans at a Juarez shelter on Sunday has reinforced El Paso advocates’ notion that it’s not safe to make U.S. asylum seekers wait out their processes in Mexico.
According to Mexican authorities, three masked men carrying guns and a rifle burst into a migrant shelter in West Juarez on Sunday night, beating some Cuban nationals and robbing the rest of money, documents, cell phones and other possessions. At least three migrants required medical attention.
“There were no major injuries, but some people were beaten. The men were carrying guns and went inside in a very violent manner (to rob) the migrants,” said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the Chihuahua State Population Council, the government agency tasked with assisting migrants in Juarez.
Quoting one of the victims, Mexican news reports described a chaotic scene in which one of the assailants goaded his companions to “shoot one of them so they see this is serious,” while another tried to break a Cuban’s leg by hitting him repeatedly with the butt of his rifle.
Valenzuela said the state government sent psychologists to provide counseling to the victims of the assault and to the families who witnessed it. “The municipal police has been sent to provide security, too,” said Valenzuela, who declined to identify the shelter where the assault took place.
He added that some of the Cuban victims were part of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program, in which the U.S. government sends migrants to Mexico to await the outcome of asylum cases. “One lost all of his documents, including the appointment slip for his next hearing,” Valenzuela said.
As a result of the incident, Mexican officials are holding meetings to plan security improvements around the half dozen church-run shelters in the city. The Mexican National Guard provides security for the one federal shelter in Juarez.
“This is something that upsets us, but does not surprise us,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights. “We warned that things like these were going to happen by not allowing migrants to wait out their processes in the United States. Mexico is not a safe country for immigrants. It’s not even a safe country for Mexicans; many of them are also coming here, fleeing the violence.”
Marisa Limon, deputy director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute, said the United States bears some responsibility if some of the migrants attacked at the Juarez shelter were asylum seekers.
“The safety and security of all vulnerable communities, including asylum seekers, is of utmost importance,” she said. “When you introduce a vulnerable community to an area where there are many challenges that even every day Juarez residents face, it’s only a matter of time before they become preyed upon.”
Limon stressed the importance of not casting all Juarez residents as people who are out to take advantage of migrants.
“We know that these individuals who made this attack don’t represent the values and beliefs of all Juarez residents; it’s important to make that distinction,” she said. “There are many communities in Juarez that are going above and beyond to be hospitable to migrants. It’s unfortunate that they become targets of some members of the community.”