The journey migrants face trying to enter the U.S. is known to be hazardous and full of dangers and recently that was tragically apparent after a fire broke out at a migrant center. Mexican officials confirmed the deaths of at least 39 migrants with 29 people injured on March 28 in the center located in the border city of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico neighboring El Paso, Texas. The Associated Press reported that the migrants lit mattresses on fire in protest after learning they would be deported.
“This had to do with a protest that they started after, we assume, they found out that they were going to be deported, and as a protest, they put mattresses from the shelter at the door of the shelter, and they set fire to them and they did not imagine that this was going to cause this terrible accident,” says Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a statement.
The National Migration Institute reported there to be a total of 68 men from Central and South America in the center. The nationalities of some of the migrants were released by Mexico’s prosecutor general as 13 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, 12 Venezuelans, a Colombian and an Ecuadorian. Guatemala’s General Directorate of Migration confirmed that out of the 39 deceased migrants, 28 were Guatemalans.
There have been numerous outcries regarding the treatment of migrants and on March 9, 30 migrant shelters and advocacy organizations published an open letter accusing authorities of abuse, excessive force, and unlawful questioning, according to The Associated Press.
Viangly Infante, 31, a Venezuelan woman whose husband, Eduard Carabello, 27, was trapped inside the facility when the fire broke out alleges no one helped the migrants. “At 10 p.m., we started to see smoke billowing from everywhere, everybody ran away but they left the men locked in. Everybody was removed from the area, but they left the men locked in. They never opened the door,” Infante told Reuters. While Carabello survived the fire, he was reportedly sent to the hospital with breathing problems.
A shocking surveillance video released by The Associated Press supports Infante’s claim as the video shows guards walking away from the detention cell that caught on fire where the 68 men were located, making no attempt to release the men and bring them to safety.
The amount of migrants who have tried to cross into the U.S. has risen astronomically since last year and on March 12 hundreds of people gathered at the El Paso, Texas border in an attempt to enter the U.S. There have been more than 2 million expulsions of migrants by U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the southern border using Title 42 since 2020, CBP reported. Title 42, originally launched in 1944, reemerged during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 when border crossings were regulated due to an increase in protective measures to stop the spread. Migrants are being denied entry even if they are seeking asylum and are instead forced to return to their homeland or the country they were last in which is often Mexico, PBS reported.
The National Migration Institute has called for Mexico’s National Council on Human Rights to investigate on the cause of the matter but in the meantime the agency has stated that in lieu of the tragedy they “will provide Visitor Cards for Humanitarian Reasons to the injured and will cover the medical requirements for a speedy recovery.” Those who are seeking refugee status or were victims of crimes in Mexico are also eligible to receive Visitor cards.
UPDATE: March 30
Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that eight workers or officials will be investigated for possible misconduct in connection to the fire, NPR reported. Five of are private security guards, two are federal immigration agents and one is a Chihuahua state officer, according to the news outlet. No charges have been announced but authorities said they would seek at least four arrest warrants including one for a migrant who they allege was among the group that started the fire.
This is a developing story