Updated: Feb 23
This weekend, we watched in agony footage from the Melilla border fence between Spain and Morocco, where dozens of bodies lay on the ground, after being attacked by the Moroccan border officials for making a desperate attempt for a better life. Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister, was quick to blame mafias for the massacre and congratulated the work of Moroccan and Spanish border police – the same forces we saw beating migrants to death in videos and pictures. Morocco has tried to make the scandal go away by quickly burying the bodies of the deceased African migrants, without identifying them or determining cause of death, further showing the little regard they have for migrant lives. As of now, we know of 37 deaths and 76 wounded in what has become the biggest massacre at the Melilla border yet.
Only two days later, a similar tragedy occurred at the U.S./Mexico border. At least 51 migrants suffocated to death inside an abandoned truck near San Antonio, Texas. Sweltering temperatures reached 100 degrees in San Antonio, while these individuals were trapped in the rig of a semi-truck with no water or air conditioning. Those who survived were too weak to move, their skin too hot to touch, their bodies completely dehydrated. Authorities said they arrested three people in response to the tragedy now being called “the deadliest smuggling attempt in US history.”
It’s easy to blame the Moroccan officials or the coyotes in Texas for the loss of at least 88 lives. It is easier for governments to place blame on groups or entities or the victims themselves, rather than acknowledge that governments and their immigration policies are responsible for these deaths. On Twitter, President Biden promised to “continue to do everything possible to stop criminal smugglers from exploiting migrants.” What Biden fails to recognize, and what advocates, legal service providers and organizers have been warning since before Biden took office, is that unless Title 42, a rule using the pandemic as an excuse to essentially shutdown the border, is revoked and humane immigration policies adopted (as promised on the campaign trail), tragedies like these are inevitable.
Although Title 42, a racist policy framed as a “public health” measure, was created by the demagogue Stephen Miller during the Trump administration, Biden has made it a cornerstone of his immigration legacy by continuing to justify and even expanding the cruel and deadly policy. While Title 42, “Remain in Mexico,” and other border policies from Texas to Spain are presented under the guise of national security and protecting communities, really, they have given law enforcement at the border absolute immunity to kill non-white migrants, whether they’re forced to remain in Mexico for their day in court, or barred from exploring humanitarian relief by Title 42. It is the very aggressive and violent deterrence policies carefully crafted and developed by G7 countries that force migrants to make a life-threatening decision to seek a better life.
Nation-states need to understand that the more they criminalize our humanity, the more lives are put at risk. They can create the toughest policies to deter migration, or criminalize abortion, but that will not stop people from taking agency over their own lives, and the results can be tragic.
Condolences for the loss of life are hypocritical coming from governments that enact and enforce the deadly border policies that caused them. CCIJ and our allies will continue to demand meaningful change. We don’t want to mourn life anymore, we want to celebrate it. Our fight to abolish detention centers, and the fight to abolish borders, are ways of saving and celebrating life.