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A police officer takes measures while people commemorate the migrants who died after a fire broke out at a migration facility killing at least 30 migrants in the Mexican northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Photo by Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Mexican Authorities Investigate Private Security and Law Enforcement Role in Deadly Fire at Migrant Facility

A fire at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the evening of 27 March resulted in more than 30 deaths and several injuries. Authorities are looking at the allegedly negligent and passive reactions of security guards and law enforcement in response to the deadly blaze.

Victims of the fire were all migrant men from Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela. The Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM) reported on 28 March that 38 people were dead and another 28 injured were transported to hospitals. The fire has been identified as one of the deadliest incidents at a Mexican immigration holding facility.

Ciudad Juarez, which sits across from El Paso, Texas, USA, serves as a major crossing point for people looking to enter the United States. Nearly 70 men from Central and South America were residing in the facility when the fire broke out. After some detainees were informed that they would be deported, the fire was reportedly started in protest, with mattresses lit on fire inside the building.

Mexican authorities identified eight people who are likely responsible for the fire and resulting crimes. Officials added that “they believe that federal and state agents, as well as security guards, are also responsible for the fire,” said ABC News.

Prosecutors identified a state migration officer, two federal agents, and five employees of a private security firm as allegedly responsible for the deaths resulting from the fire, according to Aljazeera. The security company was in charge of the detention center.

“Migrants gathered mattresses and minutes later set them on fire. None of the civil servants, nor the security guards, took any action to open the door to the migrants who were inside with the fire,” said Sara Irene Herrerías Guerra, head of the Specialized Prosecutor for Human Rights, an office that is part of the attorney general's office.

Mexican authorities are investigating the actions of security guards related to the incident, notably how they did not open the cell doors after the fire started. Also under investigation are emergency protocols and prior training from the security firm.

A surveillance video broadcast on social media and via various media outlets “showed men kicking on the bars of a locked door as their cell filled with smoke,” Aljazeera reported. Three uniformed guards can be seen walking away from the blaze without trying to open the door.

The eight suspects face a range of charges, including intentional homicide, injuries, and property damage. While the suspects were brought before Mexico’s attorney general, they are not yet being detained because authorities are awaiting arrest warrants.

Tensions recently spiked between migrants and authorities in Ciudad Juarez as shelters fill with people hoping to enter the United States.

In 2018, the U.S. Migration Protection Protocols established that Mexico would host asylum-seekers at the Mexico-U.S. border awaiting a decision from the United States—regardless of the person’s country of origin. This program, as well as others, resulted in an increase of migrants in border-crossing cities like Ciudad Juarez. The Biden administration has attempted to end these programs—such as the Public Health Services Act Title 42— but have been blocked by the courts, according to The Washington Post.

Although Mexico has one of the largest immigrations detention programs in the world, overcrowding is not uncommon.

“Outsourcing U.S. immigration enforcement to Mexico has led to serious abuses and forced hundreds of thousands to wait in appalling conditions to seek protection," said Tyler Mattiace, a researcher at the Human Rights Watch.

“More than 30 migrant shelters and other advocacy organizations published an open letter 9 March that complained of a criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers in the city,” the Associated Press reported. “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.”

When asked if the fire raised concerns if funding for Mexico’s migration facilities was sufficient, “officials said the budget had been deemed adequate following a review,” CNN reported.

Since the fire, hundreds of migrants have begun protesting outside of a migrant processing center in Ciudad Juarez, according to The Guardian. The protestors called for justice for the deaths resulting from the fire, amplifying existing frustrations over conditions of the facilities and treatment of migrants.