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

Streaming HUBMarch 29, 2023

The families of nearly 40 migrant men who died in Tuesday’s fire at a detention facility in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez say guards at the facility neglected to release the men, contributing to the high death toll.

Mexican officials said a fire broke out in the male section of the facility after detained migrants set their mattresses on fire in protest against rumors they would be sent back to South and Central America. Surveillance video released Tuesday shows that as smoke filled the men’s cells, guards made no apparent effort to release the men before evacuating the compound.

Immigration officials said 68 migrant men were housed at the facility at the time of the fire. 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 taken to local hospitals for emergency care.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), guards released 15 women when the fire broke out, but no explanation was given as to why the men were kept inside. The relatives of the deceased and the injured are demanding answers.

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Staff members purported to ignore migrant detainees locked behind a cell door at a detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 27, 2023, walk away from the cell, where flames and smoke began to spread . The Jesuit refugee service, which visits the facility once a week to monitor conditions, confirmed that the video showed the men's cell. She said that the door the men were kicking in was the only exit.

Staff members purported to ignore migrant detainees locked behind a cell door at a detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 27, 2023, walk away from the cell, where flames and smoke began to spread . The Jesuit refugee service, which visits the facility once a week to monitor conditions, confirmed that the video showed the men’s cell. She said that the door the men were kicking in was the only exit. (Video obtained by Reuters)

A girl lights a candle 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 Andrés Manuel López Obrador, migrants set fire to mattresses fearing deportation. Center, fire started.

A girl lights a candle 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 Andrés Manuel López Obrador, migrants set fire to mattresses fearing deportation. Center, fire started. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

“There was smoke everywhere. The only people they let out were women, and they[employees]were with immigration,” said Infante Padrón, whose husband, Eduard Caraballo López, is one of the survivors.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Padrón said she discovered her husband as emergency responders began removing foil-wrapped bodies from the burning building.

“The men never got them out until the firefighters arrived,” she said. “He alone had the key. It was his responsibility to open the doors of the bar and to save those lives, whether there were prisoners there or not, whether they escaped or not, regardless of what happened. He had to save those lives. Was.”

Leaked surveillance video on Tuesday showed migrants, allegedly out of fear that they were about to be moved, placing foam mattresses against the bars of their detention cells and setting them on fire.

In the video, later confirmed by the government, two men dressed as guards run into the camera frame, and at least one migrant is seen through a metal gate on the other side. However, the guards make no effort to open the cell doors and instead quickly flee as billowing clouds of smoke fill the structure within seconds.

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A guarded staff member walks away from a cell where flames and smoke began to spread as migrant detainees are locked behind a cell door on March 27, 2023 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

A guarded staff member walks away from a cell where flames and smoke began to spread as migrant detainees are locked behind a cell door on March 27, 2023 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Video obtained by Reuters)

A pair of Venezuelan sisters comfort each other while sitting on the sidewalk outside an immigration detention center where dozens of migrants, fearing deportation, set mattresses on fire, triggering protests in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Dozens of people died. sisters study in spanish "No more inhumane policies."

A pair of Venezuelan sisters comfort each other while sitting on the sidewalk outside an immigration detention center where dozens of migrants, fearing deportation, set mattresses on fire, triggering protests in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Dozens of people died. The sisters read in Spanish “No more inhumane policies.” (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

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

“The National Institute of Migration strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy,” the agency said.

Earlier on Tuesday, around 100 migrants had gathered outside the immigration center to inquire about the condition of their relatives.

Katisca Marquez, 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 was traveling with her.

“We want to know if he is alive or if he is dead,” she said aloud, describing how all the guards survived the fire, but many migrants did not. “How could they not take them out?”

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Migrants as a member of the Mexican National Guard, right, has any new information available about the victims of a fire at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Migrants as a member of the Mexican National Guard, right, has any new information available about the victims of a fire at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

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

“You can see this 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”.

Immigration activist Irineo Mujica told The Associated Press that migrants fear being deported to southern Mexico, from where they will then attempt to travel across the country as they seek to reach the US.

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

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

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Mexican officials and firefighters evacuate injured migrants, mostly Venezuelans, from inside the National Migration Institute building in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 27, 2023.

Mexican officials and firefighters evacuate injured migrants, mostly Venezuelans, from inside the National Migration Institute building in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 27, 2023. (Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez)

The migrants were being held in Ciudad Juárez, which is just across the border from El Paso, Texas, because US policy does not allow them to claim asylum within the country. They were detained as part of a crackdown after residents of the city were discouraged from crossing the border and blocking traffic.

Earlier this month, at least 1,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, stormed the Paso del Norte bridge connecting Mexico with the US in El Paso in an attempt to gain entry to US Customs and Border Protection.

Republicans have accused Biden Administration on the increase in encounters after the withdrawal of Trump-era policies, such as the Remain in Mexico policy, ending wall construction and reducing internal ICE enforcement as causes of the crisis.

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The Biden administration has pushed back on those allegations and accused Republicans of failing to vote for more border funding and not supporting a comprehensive immigration reform proposal presented on the administration’s first day.

In his State of the Union address, President Biden appealed again It’s up to Republicans to pass parts of the bill, but lawmakers have balked at including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which Democrats have indicated is needed.

Fox News’ Greg Weiner, Bill Melugin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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