Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Mexican immigration guards didn’t release migrants as deadly fire raged, video appears to show

 

The families of nearly 40 migrant men who died in a fire at a detention facility in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez on Tue

Mexican authorities said the inferno started in the men’s section of the facility after detained migrants set fire to their mattresses in protest over rumors that they would be deported back to South and Central America. Surveillance video released Tuesday shows that as smoke filled the men’s cells, guards made no apparent attempt to release the men before evacuating the premises.

Immigration authorities said 68 migrant men were housed in the facility at the time the fire started. The men were mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela and El Savador, traveling north on their way to the United States. The official toll is 38 dead and 28 seriously injured, who were transported to local hospitals for emergency care.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), the guards released 15 women when the fire broke out, but no explanation has been offered for why the men were left locked inside. Family members of the killed and injured are demanding answers.

FIRE AT MEXICO MIGRANT FACILITY THAT KILLED 38 STARTED IN DEPORTATION PROTEST, PRESIDENT SAYS

Alleged staff members walk away from the cell where flames and smoke begin to spread, appearing to ignore migrant detainees, who are locked behind a cell door at a detention centre in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 27, 2023. Alejandra Corona, a representative of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which visits the facility once a week to monitor conditions, confirmed the video showed the men's cell. The door the men were kicking on was the only exit, she said. Video obtained by REUTERS

Alleged staff members walk away from the cell where flames and smoke begin to spread, appearing to ignore migrant detainees, who are locked behind a cell door at a detention centre in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 27, 2023. Alejandra Corona, a representative of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which visits the facility once a week to monitor conditions, confirmed the video showed the men’s cell. The door the men were kicking on was the only exit, she said. Video obtained by REUTERS© Video obtained by REUTERS

A girl lights candle during a vigil for the victims of a fire at an immigration detention center that killed dozens in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. According to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze at the center, starting the fire. AP Photo/Christian Chavez

A girl lights candle during a vigil for the victims of a fire at an immigration detention center that killed dozens in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. According to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze at the center, starting the fire. AP Photo/Christian Chavez© AP Photo/Christian Chavez

“There was smoke everywhere. The ones they let out were the women, and those (employees) with immigration,” said Infante Padrón, whose husband, Eduard Caraballo López, is one of the survivors.

sday say that guards at the facility neglected to release the men, contributing to the high death toll.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Padrón said she frantically searched for her husband as emergency responders began pulling foil-wrapped bodies out of the burning building.

“The men, they never took them out until the firefighters arrived,” she said. “They alone had the key. The responsibility was theirs to open the bar doors and save those lives, regardless of whether there were detainees, regardless of whether they would run away, regardless of everything that happened. They had to save those lives.”

Surveillance video leaked Tuesday showed migrants, reportedly fearing they were about to be moved, placing foam mattresses against the bars of their detention cell and setting them on fire.

In the video, later confirmed by the government, two people dressed as guards rush into the camera frame, and at least one migrant appears by the metal gate on the other side. However, the guards do not appear to make any effort to open the cell doors and instead hurry away as billowing clouds of smoke fill the structure within seconds.

MEXICAN PRESIDENT CALLS US ‘LIARS’ AFTER HUMAN RIGHTS SLAP

An alleged staff member walks away from the cell where flames and smoke begin to spread as migrant detainees are locked behind a cell door at a detention centre in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 27, 2023 in this still image from video. Video obtained by REUTERS

An alleged staff member walks away from the cell where flames and smoke begin to spread as migrant detainees are locked behind a cell door at a detention centre in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 27, 2023 in this still image from video. Video obtained by REUTERS© Video obtained by REUTERS

A pair of Venezuelan sisters comfort each other sitting on a sidewalk outside an immigration detention center where dozens of migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze, starting a fire that killed dozens in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. The sign behind the sisters reads in Spanish "No more inhuman policies." AP Photo/Fernando Llano

A pair of Venezuelan sisters comfort each other sitting on a sidewalk outside an immigration detention center where dozens of migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze, starting a fire that killed dozens in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. The sign behind the sisters reads in Spanish “No more inhuman policies.” AP Photo/Fernando Llano© AP Photo/Fernando Llano

In a statement released Tuesday, INM said the proper authorities were investigating the incident and pledged to assist investigators “in order to clarify these unfortunate facts.”

“The National Institute of Migration strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy,” the agency said, without specifying which “acts” it was referring to.

Earlier Tuesday, nearly 100 migrants gathered outside the immigration facility to learn the fate of their relatives.

Katiuska Márquez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan woman with her two children, ages 2 and 4, told the Associated Press she was looking for her half-brother, Orlando Maldonado, who had been traveling with her.

“We want to know if he is alive or if he’s dead,” she said, wondering aloud how all the guards survived the blaze but many of the migrants didn’t. “How could they not get them out?”

MEXICAN SEIZURE OF US COMPANY’S FACILITY MARKS LATEST DIPLOMATIC FUROR AMID TENSIONS OVER FENTANYL, CARTELS

Migrants, right, as a member of the Mexican National Guard if there is any new information available regarding the victims of a fire at an immigration detention center that killed dozens, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. AP Photo/Fernando Llano

Migrants, right, as a member of the Mexican National Guard if there is any new information available regarding the victims of a fire at an immigration detention center that killed dozens, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. AP Photo/Fernando Llano© AP Photo/Fernando Llano

Immigration activists slammed the Mexican government’s response, claiming this incident was the latest in a series of human rights abuses inflicted by treating migrants as criminals.

“You could see it coming,” a coalition of more than 30 migrant shelters and other advocacy organizations said in a statement Tuesday. “Mexico’s immigration policy kills.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the fire a “terrible misfortune.”

Irineo Mujica, an immigration activist, told the Associated Press that the migrants are afraid of being deported to southern Mexico, from where they will attempt to travel across the country again as they seek to reach the U.S.

“When people reach the north, it’s like a ping-pong game — they send them back down south,” Mujica said.

“We had said that with the number of people they were sending, the sheer number of people was creating a ticking time bomb,” Mujica said. “Today that time bomb exploded.”

Mexican authorities and firefighters remove injured migrants, mostly Venezuelans, from inside the National Migration Institute building during a fire, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Mexican authorities and firefighters remove injured migrants, mostly Venezuelans, from inside the National Migration Institute building during a fire, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez© REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The migrants were being held in Ciudad Juárez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas, because U.S. policy does not permit them to make asylum claims within the country. They had been detained as part of a crackdown after frustrating city residents by panhandling and blocking traffic at border crossings.

Earlier this month, at least 1,000 migrants mostly from Venezuela stormed the Paso Del Norte bridge linking Mexico to the U.S. in El Paso in an attempt to gain entry into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection repelled the migrants.

Republicans have blamed the Biden administration on the increase in encounters after rolling back Trump-era policies like the Remain-in-Mexico policy, ending wall construction and narrowing interior ICE enforcement as reasons for the crisis.

The Biden administration has pushed back on those accusations and have accused Republicans of failing to vote for more border funding and not supporting a sweeping immigration reform proposal introduced on day one of the administration.

In his State of the Union address, President Biden again appealed for Republicans to pass parts of the bill, but lawmakers have balked at the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which Democrats have indicated is a must. source


Mexican president vows no cover-up in investigation of fire that killed 39 migrants

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed that his government will thoroughly investigate a fire that killed at least 38 migrants at a detention center in this border city.

A Venezuelan migrant girl lights a candle at a vigil for victims of a fire at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Tuesday. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed the case would be investigated "to find out what really happened." (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

A Venezuelan migrant girl lights a candle at a vigil for victims of a fire at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Tuesday. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed the case would be investigated “to find out what really happened.” (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)© (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

Security video circulating on social media appeared to show staffers making no effort to help desperate detainees who remained locked behind bars Monday night as smoke billowed and flames spread. One detainee kicks the bars in an apparent attempt to force the door open.

“There is no intention to cover up what happened, no intention to protect anyone,” López Obrador told reporters Wednesday at his daily news conference in Mexico City. “In our government we don’t permit violation of human rights or impunity.”

The president also assured people in the homelands of those who died that the case would be investigated “to find out what really happened.”

News of the fire set off panic in communities across Latin America as relatives of U.S.-bound migrants rushed to check on them.

Mexican authorities have added to the confusion by reporting the names of the dead and the injured without specifying who fell into which group. An original list, released late Tuesday, included 68 migrants, but an updated list held 66. All were men: 28 from Guatemala, 12 from Venezuela, 13 from Honduras, 12 from El Salvador one from Colombia.

Of the victims who are hospitalized, 17 remained in critical condition, nine were listed as “delicate” and two as stable, authorities said.

On Tuesday, the president said the fire began after migrants learned that they were going to be deported to their home countries — and ignited mattresses in protest.

But migrants and activists here say they want more details about the cause and demanded to know why authorities at the lockup were unable to douse the flames or free prisoners trapped behind bars.

It is also unclear whether the facility had a functioning fire alarm or sprinkler system.“We’re all very frustrated, we don’t know what happened to our friends — who lived, who died,” said Paola Aliendres, 29, a mother of two from Venezuela who was among dozens of migrants who gathered outside the charred facility here late Tuesday to protest the government’s handling of the case. “It seems like they want to blame us for everything.”

The Mexican foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said Tuesday that the culprits behind the fire had been identified and would be “presented” to the federal attorney general’s office. He provided no details as to their identities.

Even before the fire, tensions over immigration were running high in Ciudad Juárez, a bustling manufacturing hub across the Rio Grande from El Paso

Tens of thousands of migrants from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have been stranded here and in other Mexican border towns and cities in recent years as the U.S. government has pressured Mexico to help stop them from crossing into the United States.

It was not publicly known whether any of the dead or injured had been turned back by U.S. authorities under Title 42, a public health law invoked during the pandemic to expel tens of thousands of unauthorized border crossers back to Mexico in recent years while denying them a chance to apply for political asylum or other potential relief in the United States.

Migrants here accuse Mexican officials of harassing or needlessly arresting them, sometimes raiding hotels and hostels or detaining them on the streets, where many sell trinkets, food and other items. Migrants not only face deportation, they said, but are often bused south — sometimes to Mexico’s border with Guatemala, almost 2,000 miles away — in a bid to frustrate their efforts to enter the United States.

“They just come and take us away for no reason,” said Aliendres, the Venezuelan mother. “We are just trying to make a living and survive and hopefully one day fulfill our dream to get to the United States.”

The migrant detention center, situated about 100 yards from the Rio Grande separating Mexico and the United States, is one of many across the country run by the Mexican government’s National Immigration Institute. Both federal staff and private contractors work at the center.

Migrants have long complained about mistreatment and overcrowding at the federal lockups.

Monday’s fire was believed to be the deadliest incident to date at any of the facilities, which are meant for short-term detention of migrants lacking legal status.

It was the latest in a series of tragedies that have cost the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years.

In June, 53 people from Mexico and Central America perished in a sweltering tractor trailer abandoned in San Antonio.

In December 2021, 55 migrants, mostly Guatemalans, were killed when the truck ferrying them in southern Mexico’s southern Chiapas state crashed.

In 2010, authorities said, members of a Mexican drug cartel kidnapped and killed 72 migrants, mostly Central Americans, in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Officials say the migrants were killed after refusing to work for the criminal gang. source