Friday, June 14, 2024

Video footage shows deadly negligence at migrant detention center

Video footage posted to social media shows that migrants were left in a locked section of a provisional detention center in Ciudad Juárez despite the outbreak of a fire that ultimately claimed many of their lives.

The National Immigration Institute (INM) said Tuesday night that 38 men died in the blaze on Monday night, one fewer than the institute had previously reported. The death toll rose to 39 again on Wednesday, however, after another migrant died in hospital. Close to 30 migrants were injured and taken to local hospitals for treatment.

Migrants set mattresses alight after they found out they were going to be deported or moved, President López Obrador said Tuesday.

A 32-second video shows a security guard and a man in an INM uniform walking across a room adjacent to the locked section of the detention facility, where flames and smoke are visible.

They apparently evacuated the building without unlocking the door to the section where the migrants were being held. It was unclear whether one of the men, or both, had keys to the door.

One migrant makes an unsuccessful attempt to kick the metal door down while another stands next to it and appears to say something to the security guard and INM employee. Thick smoke quickly engulfs the lockup and the adjacent room.

INM Commissioner Fernando Garduño Yáñez visits a victim of Monday's fire in a Ciudad Júarez hospital.
INM Commissioner Fernando Garduño Yáñez visits a victim of Monday’s fire in a Ciudad Júarez hospital. (Twitter/@INAMI_mx)

The migrants who died were killed either directly by the fire or due to smoke inhalation.

Interior Minister Adán Augusto López, whose department oversees the INM, said in an interview that the government had been in possession of the video since shortly after the fire. However, López Obrador made no mention of it at his press conference on Tuesday, at which he only briefly discussed the events at the detention center.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry of El Salvador expressed “its strongest condemnation of the very serious actions of the personnel” at the INM facility, reporting that several Salvadorans died in the fire.

“We demand that the relevant authorities thoroughly investigate what happened and bring those responsible to justice,” the Salvadoran government said.

The INM published a list of the detainees but didn’t fully differentiate between those who died and those who were injured. Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that 28 of the deceased were believed to be from that country.

Fifteen women were released from the same detention center when the fire broke out, but the INM didn’t explain why the men were not. Men from six countries — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador — were being held at the center in the Chihuahua border city located opposite El Paso, Texas.

Immigration agents detained the men on Monday, according to the Associated Press, which reported that many of them had been begging or washing car windows at stoplights in Ciudad Juárez.

One of the survivors of the fire is Venezuelan Eduard Caraballo López, who doused himself with water and pressed himself against a door when the fire broke out, according to his wife, who was waiting outside the detention center.

Viangly Infante Padrón told the Associated Press that she was initially “desperate” as she saw several dead bodies come out of the facility but didn’t see her husband.

“There was smoke everywhere. The ones they let out were the women, and those [employees] with immigration,” Infante said.

The government of El Salvador released a strongly worded statement demanding an investigation into the fire and that the persons found responsible face justice.


“The men, they never took them out until the firefighters arrived. They alone had the key,” she said, referring to INM personnel.

“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,” Infante said.

More than 200 organizations in Mexico, other Latin American countries and the United States endorsed a statement by a human rights advocacy group that blamed the federal government for Monday’s tragedy.

“The situation reflects an absence of protocols and absence of a policy … to guarantee the rights and protection of migrants and asylum seekers,” the statement said.

The organizations called on the INM to take responsibility for the incident and explain what happened on Monday night and urged Congress to legislate against the arrest of migrants except in exceptional circumstances.

Migration stations, as the government calls centers like the one where the fire occurred, are “torturous environments and their operation infringes on rights, dignity and, as is shown in this case, the lives of migrants,” the statement said.

Rosa Icela Rodriguez
Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez listens to a question from a reporter at a Wednesday afternoon press conference about the Monday fire that killed 39 migrants. (Daniel Augusto/Cuartoscuro)

“The metallic blankets that covered the bodies of the deceased are symbols of an inhumane migration policy. … Said policy … supports a system of systematic arbitrary detention that violates rights. Migration policy in Mexico kills,” the statement said.

Pope Francis offered prayers on Wednesday for the migrants who died in the fire, while United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths and called for a “thorough investigation of this tragic event.”

President Lopez Obrador said at his press conference on Wednesday morning that employees of a private security company worked at the INM center in Ciudad Juárez and that he had asked federal Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero to attend directly to the case. He also mentioned that some of the employees of the detention center were under contract with a private security company.

“… We’re not going to hide anything. We’re not the same as those who fabricated crimes, hid things, tortured, so that people, some of them innocent, would blame themselves,” he said.

At a press conference on Wednesday evening, Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez extended condolences to the families of the victims and told the press that eight people had been identified as likely to have been responsible parties in the incident, including federal agents, a state migration agent and workers with the private security company under contract at the center. Charges forthcoming would include homicide and property damage but also possibly other charges, including abuse of authority, she said.

The case will be pursued jointly by the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) and the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office, Rodríguez said.

The company that provided security services to the center will no longer be allowed to offer services in Mexico, she said.

The fire is among the deadliest tragedies involving migrants in Mexico in recent decades. Two incidents in which more migrants died include a 2021 tractor-trailer crash in Chiapas that claimed the lives of 55 clandestine passengers and the massacre of 72 migrants by cartel gunmen in Tamaulipas in 2010.

Migrant refugees waiting outside a Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance office in hopes of regularizing their status. COMAR has been overwhelmed throughout Mexico

The number of migrants in northern border cities has increased in recent weeks as United States authorities attempt to process asylum requests using a new U.S. government app called CBP One. The app has reportedly been overloaded by huge demand and plagued by glitches.

Mexico has come under pressure from the United States to do more to stop the movement of migrants to the two countries’ shared border. The federal government has deployed the National Guard to detain migrants, but many have still made it to the northern border, and crossings into the U.S. between official points of entry have recently surged.

With reports from El Universal, Reforma, Associated Press and Reuters 

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