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At Least 39 Killed in Fire at Migrant Detention Center Near Mexico-US Border

A fire at a migration center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico left at least 39 people dead and 29 others injured after migrants facing deportation set their mattresses ablaze, authorities said on Tuesday. The facility lies near the United States and Mexico border, across El Paso, Texas, a major crossing point for migrants seeking asylum.

The fire broke out late Monday at the National Migration Institute (INM) after authorities picked up a group of migrants from the city streets and detained them. Tensions had been high between authorities and migrants in the area.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said authorities “do not know exactly the names and nationalities of those who unfortunately lost their lives,” but believes “migrants from Central America and same from Venezuela were in that shelter.”

“This had to do with a protest that they started after, we assume, they found out that they were going to be deported, and as a protest, they put mattresses from the shelter at the door of the shelter, and they set fire to them. They did not imagine that this was going to cause this terrible accident.”

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On March 9th, an open letter protesting the criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers was published by more than 30 migrant shelters and advocacy organizations in Ciudad Juarez. The groups stated that police were improperly asking people about their immigration status on the street.

The city’s federal deputy, Andrea Chavez, tweeted about the incident on Tuesday, expressing her condolences.

“It is with deep sadness and grief that we learned of the fire that occurred inside the INM in Ciudad Juárez. We will wait for the official information and, from this moment on, we send our condolences to the families of the migrants. FGR initiated the investigation.”

Reuters reported a grim scene of several body bags lined up outside the facility. The incident is one of the worst fires of recent years in Mexico.

Venezuelan national Viangly Infante told Reuters about her experience witnessing the fire and its aftermath. Her husband was inside the detention center in a holding cell during the fire but survived it by dousing himself in water and pressing up against a door.

“I was here since one in the afternoon waiting for the father of my children, and when 10 p.m. rolled around, smoke started coming out from everywhere.”

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White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called the tragedy “heartbreaking” in a tweet.

“The tragic loss of life in Ciudad Juárez is heartbreaking. Our prayers are with those who lost their lives, their loved ones, and those still fighting for their lives. The United States has been in touch with Mexican officials and stands ready to provide any needed support.”

Mexico is the world’s third most popular destination for asylum seekers, after the United States and Germany. However, it mainly serves as a transit point for those aiming to enter the U.S.

The Biden administration has heightened efforts to curb the number of migrants crossing the border after seeing a record level of crossings in recent years. Mexico has also stepped up its efforts to stem the flow of migration into the U.S., causing it to struggle with overcrowding in its facilities, which house tens of thousands of migrants.

In February, the administration proposed a new rule that would broadly prohibit migrants from applying for asylum in the U.S. without first applying for asylum in the countries they transit through on their way to the shared border.

There are more than 2,200 people in Ciudad Juarez’s shelters and more migrants outside shelters from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, and El Salvador, according to The Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin.


Edward Snowden’s Life in Russia and his New Memoir

Edward Snowden, the infamous whistleblower who in 2013 revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance on ordinary citizens, has written a memoir entitled Permanent Record which releases tomorrow, September 17th. Snowden, 36, has lived with his wife in Moscow ever since leaking highly classified government information to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Snowden was charged by the Obama administration with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act, and his passport was revoked. Snowden never intended on living in Russia in the long term, and was actually en route to Havana, Cuba when his passport was cancelled, leaving him stuck in Russia. Snowden has advocated for greater asylum protection for whistleblowers such as himself around the world, and has expressed regret about the fact that the only safe place for him to live is in Russia, not in Europe where protections on free speech and privacy are thought to be more respected.

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Despite being physically restricted to his home in Moscow, Snowden has been active in intelligence community circles, particular among organizations devoted to digital privacy and freedom. Oftentimes, Snowden will appear virtually at conferences over the internet, sometimes taking advantage of a telepresence robot to speak at events around the world. Though it’s been six years since his controversial decision to share classified information about the NSA’s surveillance, Snowden has recently gained attention in the news media as he is promoting his upcoming memoir. In 2013, Snowden applied for asylum in many countries, including France and was offered asylum in four countries, but was unable to travel to any of them without passing through a country which would have extradited him to the US. 

Snowden has stated that while he is located in Russia, he has no interest in providing commentary on Russian politics and feels that he lives “on the Internet.” Snowden, however, has said that Russia is a beautiful country with friendly people. His asylum status in Russia, however, is temporary; initially he was granted asylum for only one year, but his permission to stay in the country has since been extended and is now set to expire in 2020. Snowden still considers himself an American, and wants to return to his home country; however, as he believes he would not be granted a fair trial in the States and would likely face a lengthy prison term with the threat of solitary confinement, he doesn’t consider this an option. Snowden argues that, by leaking information about the NSA, he acted in the public interest and thus didn’t break the law; however, under the terms of his indictment Snowden would not be allowed to mount a public interest defense, rendering this justification moot in the eyes of the legal system.

Snowden no longer disguises himself in public, and moves freely about his city, visiting restaurants, cafes, and art galleries, and spending time with friends.

In his memoir, Snowden describes his experience using the internet to communicate anonymously with like-minded individuals while he was growing up, the circumstances that led to his becoming interested in computer science, hacking, and privacy, and the experiences he had in the military and working for Booz-Allen, a security contractor for the US government. Snowden expresses his concern that global intelligence communities are moving towards having the capacity to create a profile detailing all of the conversations and behaviors of everybody on the planet, and is particularly worried about the surveillance behavior made possible by advancements in artificial intelligence, which have the potential to make the widespread collection of data on ordinary people even more accurate and detailed.

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Though he’d prefer to live in a different country, Snowden has grown accustomed to his life in Russia. When he first arrived, he was deathly afraid of leaving his apartment for fear of being captured by the authorities, and when he did go outdoors he would wear scarves, hats, and coats to disguise his appearance. Now, several years later, Snowden no longer disguises himself in public, and moves freely about his city, visiting restaurants, cafes, and art galleries, and spending time with friends. He makes his living by collecting fees for speaking with students, civil rights activists, and others, and though it is not yet released, his memoir is already the #1 Best Seller in Amazon’s Political Intelligence category. Though he is stuck within Russia’s borders, Snowden enjoys travelling, and has visited St. Petersburg and the Black Sea resort of Sochi, among other places.