At least 40 dead after fire at immigration center in Ciudad Juárez

Mexican federal immigration authorities say a fire broke out at an immigration center in Juárez that later led to the deaths of dozens of migrants.

By Aaron J. Montes, Angela Kocherga, KTEPMarch 29, 2023 8:29 am, ,

From KTEP:

JUÁREZ, Mexico (KTEP) – At least 40 migrants died and dozens injured after a fire started inside a federal processing building Monday night, in one of the deadliest events ever at a Mexican immigration lockup.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador blamed immigrants for starting the fire by setting a mattress on fire, a claim that both migrants and advocates pushed back against.

Families and friends of the victims are mourning their deaths and calling on the Mexican government to hold immigration authorities accountable. The circumstances of the fire are still under investigation.

The Instituto Nacional de Migración, Mexico’s immigration agency, said a fire was reported at one of its centers around 10 o’clock on Monday night. The center, which abuts an international port of entry with the U.S., had a total of 83 people inside at the time of the fire, including immigration employees, according to the agency.

Dozens of other individuals inside the center were transported to local hospitals for serious injuries. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency on Tuesday allowed some individuals to cross into El Paso for treatment at centers in El Paso.

According to Mexican federal immigration authorities, there were 68 men, mostly from Venezuela, and other Central or South American countries inside. Moreover, about 15 women were being held in another part of the facility. Staff from the Medical Examiner’s Office arrived late Monday night at the immigration center.

At least a dozen bodies were laid out in the parking lot. They were wrapped in reflective thermal blankets as they were loaded into trucks marked as forensics.

Various law enforcement including Mexico’s National Guard blocked off the street leading to the immigration facility while medical examiners walked the site.

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

Aaron J. Montes / KTEP News

Multiple law enforcement agencies including Mexico's National Guard blocked off the street leading to the immigration center where at least 40 migrants were killed after a fire broke out.

On Tuesday morning, crowds of migrants and civil rights advocates stood outside the immigration center and called for justice. They protested, holding vigils and carrying flowers for the people who died. Julianni Lopez, a migrant from Venezuela, was at the demonstration. She was with her family looking to see if her friend was dead or alive.

She said immigration authorities rounded up people on the streets hours before the fire. Many migrants at the protest said those detained by immigration authorities were frustrated after being locked up and told they would be deported.

“We are not animals,” Lopez said in Spanish. “We have hearts and bleed like everyone else.”

In Mexico City, Lopez Obrador said during his daily press conference that migrants caused the fire as a form of protest because they believed they were going to be deported.

“They started the fire and did not imagine, I assume, that it would cause this terrible tragedy,” he said.

But security video emerged on social media from inside the center during the time of the fire, and appeared to show immigration employees walking away from migrants locked in cells as the fire quickly raged throughout the facility. Charly, a man from Haiti who would only give his first name, echoed sentiments that the guards should have let the men out of their cells when they saw fire and smoke.

“Who had the keys when they saw the flames and ran away?” he asked.

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