Fire That Killed 40 Migrants Leads to Charges Against Mexican Immigration Official
Following a fire in March that killed 40 migrants in Juarez, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office is bringing charges against Francisco Garduño, the head of the National Immigration Institute in Mexico. Initially, the office pursued charges against five officials and guards, as well as a Venezuelan migrant detained on murder charges.
However, repeated calls for accountability led the office to pursue a high-level official in the National Immigration Institute as proof of systemic issues within the organization. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said federal prosecutors are refraining from revealing more about Garduño’s case, including the charges filed against him.
Prosecutors pursue top officials and guards after a fire kills 40 migrants
Prosecutors were originally planning to pursue two guards. They fled the scene of the fire without releasing any of the detained migrants. President Obrador then defended the two guards, saying they did not have the keys necessary to release them. However, several guards are still facing charges in connection with the fire.
Still, security footage from the incident shows the two guards walking away from the fire. Later, smoke starts pouring out of the detainment center. The footage shows the two guards not attempting to release the migrants as they move to a safer location.
Prosecutors are accusing the immigration officials involved and claim they did not “watch over, protect and ensure the safety of the people and facilities in their charge.”
Additionally, two Chihuahua-based officials named Antonio Molina and Salvador Gonzalez are facing an investigation in connection with the fire. Gonzalez says he plans to cooperate, according to Reuters.
A Venezuelan in the facility facing homicide charges started the fire
However, the Venezuelan migrant started the fire by burning a mattress. He reportedly protested rumored plans to deport the migrants or move them to a different facility. Additionally, a report published by Vice tells a different story.
Migrants detained at the facility confirmed he started the fire because guards refused him food or water for 10 hours.
Moreover, survivors and guards described the facility as an “extortion center” that required migrants to pay $200 for their release under threat of deportation. “I’m only alive because my family paid,” said one migrant. Guards released him on the day of the fire because his family gave them the $200 required for release.
Corruption reportedly runs rampant in these facilities
Another guard said, “It was something everyone was doing.” He added, “We weren’t forced or anything like that to be part of the scheme, but if you said anything to the managers or didn’t go along with it, little by little they would push you out of a job.”
Extortion within the facility included charging $10 for packs of cigarettes and $2.50 for lighters. Another anonymous employee said the guards also sold “drugs of all kinds,” focusing their efforts on the male migrants detained in the facility.
Following a similar incident in 2020, in which a fire killed one migrant and injured 14 others in Tabasco, prosecutors allege that this latest tragedy displays a “pattern of irresponsibility,” according to AP. There is already a history of complaints about safety concerns. This includes accusations of corruption within migrant facilities in Mexico.
A former guard, speaking anonymously, said, “We locked the doors at 7 p.m. and if they paid before then we would let them out. Otherwise they were deported to their countries or sent to Mexico City.”
19 of the 40 dead migrants came from Guatemala, while others hailed from El Salvador and Honduras. As of April 12, the Mexican government returned 31 bodies to their home countries.