Home/ News / World/  Mexico migrant detention center fire kills 38 after guards refuse to release inmates

Viangly Infante Padrón, a Venezuelan migrant, experienced fear and panic when she saw smoke coming out of a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez. She was afraid because her husband was still inside the center, having been picked up earlier that day by immigration agents, as reported by AP.

The agents had conducted a crackdown and apprehended 67 other migrants, including those who were asking for money or cleaning car windows at stoplights in the city. Ciudad Juarez is located on the Mexican border and is situated across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

Viangly Infante Padrón witnessed the tragic events that occurred at the migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez. She saw immigration agents rushing out of the building in response to a fire that had started on Monday. 

Later on, she saw bodies of migrants being carried out on stretchers, wrapped in foil blankets. Unfortunately, 38 people lost their lives and 28 others were seriously injured in the blaze. It was later discovered that the fire was started as a form of protest by the detainees themselves.

“I was desperate because I saw a dead body, a body, a body, and I didn’t see him anywhere," Infante Padrón said of her husband, Eduard Caraballo López, who in the end survived with only light injuries, perhaps because he was scheduled for release and was near a door.

“There was smoke everywhere. The ones they let out were the women, and those (employees) with immigration," Infante Padrón said. “The men, they never took them out until the firefighters arrived."

“They alone had the key," Infante Padrón said. “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."

Immigration authorities said they released 15 women when the fire broke out, but have not explained why no men were let out.

During his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims who lost their lives in the tragic fire at the migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez. 

A leaked surveillance video that emerged on Tuesday showed that the migrants, who were reportedly afraid that they were going to be moved, placed foam mattresses against the bars of their detention cell and set them on fire. 

“What humanity do we have in our lives? What humanity have we built? Death, death, death," thundered Bishop Mons. José Guadalupe Torres Campos at a Mass in memory of the migrants.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, which ran the facility, said it was cooperating in the investigation. Guatemala has already said that many of the victims were its citizens, but full identification of the dead and injured remains incomplete.

U.S. authorities have offered to help treat some of the 28 victims in critical or serious condition, most apparently from smoke inhalation.

For many, the tragedy was the foreseeable result of a long series of decisions made by leaders in places like Venezuela and Central America, and by immigration policymakers in Mexico and the United States, as well of residents in Ciudad Juarez complaining about the number of migrants asking for handouts on street corners.

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

Those same advocacy organizations published an open letter March 9 that complained of a criminalization of migrants and asylum-seekers in Ciudad Juarez. It accused authorities of abusing migrants and using excessive force in rounding them up, including complaints that municipal police questioned people in the street about their immigration status without cause.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered sympathy Tuesday, but held out little hope of change.

He said the fire was started by migrants in protest after learning they would be deported or moved.

“They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune," López Obrador said.

Immigration activist Irineo Mujica said the migrants feared being sent back, not necessarily to their home countries, but to southern Mexico, where they would have to cross the country all over again.

“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."

The migrants were stuck in Ciudad Jaurez because U.S. immigration policies don’t allow them to cross the border to file asylum claims. But they were rounded up because Ciudad Juarez residents were tired of migrants blocking border crossings or asking for money.

The high level of frustration in Ciudad Juarez was evident earlier this month when hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants tried to force their way across one of the international bridges to El Paso, acting on false rumors that the United States would allow them to enter the country. U.S. authorities blocked their attempts.

After that, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Cruz Pérez Cuellar started campaigning to inform migrants there was room in shelters and no need to beg in the streets. He urged residents not to give money to them, and said authorities removed migrants intersections where it was dangerous to beg and residents saw the activity as a nuisance.

On Tuesday, around 100 migrants gathered outside the doors of the migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez to demand information about their relatives. They were seeking answers to the same question that Mexico was asking itself in the wake of the tragedy.

Katiuska Márquez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan woman with her two children, aged 2 and 4, was also present in the crowd. She was searching for her half-brother, Orlando Maldonado, who had been traveling with her. The families of the victims were left devastated by the events, and the incident underscored the difficult situation faced by migrants seeking a better life.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Updated: 29 Mar 2023, 04:16 PM IST
Recommended For You
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My Reads Watchlist Feedback Redeem a Gift Card Logout