Surveillance footage released on Tuesday 28 March shows that 38 migrants were k!lled when they set fire to mattresses they had pushed against the bars of their detention cell in northern Mexico. The guards walked away and made no apparent attempt to release the men before smoke filled the room.
Ciudad Juarez sits across the U.S. border from El Paso, Texas, and is a popular crossing place for migrants. Within hours of the fire late Monday, rows of victims were laid out under shimmering silver sheets outside the immigration holding center.
The dea†h toll was first estimated at 40, although authorities later acknowledged that some victims may have been counted more than once. The National Immigration Institute reports that twenty-eight persons were hurt, with their conditions ranging from “delicate-serious.”
The government reported that 68 male inmates from Central and South America were housed there at the time of the fire. According to the institute, virtually all of them originated in either Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, or El Salvador.
At least one migrant can be seen standing by the metal gate on the other side of the screen as two people in a uniform rush into the frame. Within seconds, the entire building was filled with billowing clouds of smoke, but the guards made no move to open the cell doors and instead fled.
In an interview with a local journalist named Joaqun López Doriga, Mexico’s interior secretary Adán Augusto López vouched for the video’s veracity.
The Mexico attorney general’s office released a statement saying that the dead and injured were from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador.
President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed that migrants who had been informed they would be deported ignited the fire as a form of protest.
López Obrador stated, “They never expected that this would produce this awful misfortune.”
Chihuahua state prosecutor Cesar Jáuregui told reporters that the administration had to rent refrigerated trailers to store the bodies of the deceased migrants.
Migrants Detained Outside City Hall of Juarez
The city hall of Juarez is direct across the street from the correctional center.
The air was thick with smoke. She claimed that only women and those with immigration papers were released. They didn’t remove the males until the fire department showed up. Over a hundred migrants amassed outside the immigration center, demanding to know the whereabouts of loved ones.
Katiuska Márquez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan lady, was looking for her half-brother, Orlando Maldonado, who had been traveling with her and their two young children, aged 2 and 4.
She pleaded, “Tell us if he’s alive or if he’s dead.” There were just migrants k!lled, but she couldn’t help but wonder how the guards inside had escaped unscathed. Why didn’t they just get them out?
The government did not immediately respond to our query. On Monday 27 March, police arrested Márquez and Maldonado, along with the children and another 20 people. They needed an appointment to apply for asylum in the United States and had been staying in Juarez to do so. Ten of them shared a room and paid for it with the money they gathered through panhandling.
She explained that she had been at a traffic signal with a cardboard sign asking for food for her kids and that others had responded by giving her some. Agents arrived out of nowhere and rounded up everyone.
Everyone was transported to the immigration center, but only the male inmates were confined to cells. The moms and kids were let out three hours later.
Ciudad Juarez’s shelters have been overflowing with people waiting for opportunities to cross into the United States or for the asylum procedure to play out, and tensions between officials and migrants have supposedly been high in recent weeks.
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Excessive Use of Immigration Detention Leads to Tragedy in Ciudad Juarez
The criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers in the city was criticized in an open letter published by more than 30 migrant shelters and other advocacy organizations on March 9. Municipal police were accused of asking random persons on the street about their immigration status and employing excessive force during the roundup of migrants.
Tensions in Ciudad Juarez have been rising since earlier this month, when hundreds of migrants, largely from Venezuela, tried to storm one of the international crossings leading to El Paso on the mistaken belief that they would be allowed entry into the United States. The U.S. government foiled its plans.
The immigration center was over capacity, and the site of the fire lacked ventilation, advocates for migrants who have recently decried more forceful practices said Tuesday 28 March.
UN migrant rights expert Felipe González Morales tweeted that “excessive use of immigration detention leads to tragedies like this one.” He wrote that immigration detention should be used only in extreme cases, as required by international law.
Overcrowding, demonstrations, and even riots have occurred occasionally in Mexico’s immigration prisons.
Although Mexican law requires asylum seekers to remain in the state where they applied, many people have gathered near the country’s southern border with Guatemala. Border cities also have tens of thousands of residents.
Bishop Mons. José Guadalupe Torres Campos, speaking at a Mass in honor of the migrants, mourned the terrible grief that had struck the migrant community.
The yell and wail of humanity, he observed, was “enough of so much misery and enough of so much dea†h.”
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