39 migrants died because guards wanted $200, as Juárez migrant facility is dubbed an “extortion center”
According to three survivors and two guards who spoke to Vice World News, those who died did not or could not pay for the $200 price to be released.
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In a dark confirmation of what surfaced security footages showed the world in the migrant facility fire in Ciudad Juarez that killed 39 mostly Guatemalans, Hondurans, Venezuelans, and El Salvadorians — comes another tragic update that explains why security guards at the office of National Migration Institute (INM) were so nonchalant about leaving nearly 40 men behind as a large blaze broke out inside.
According to Vice World News, who spoke to three survivors and two guards, the 39 deaths were a result of refusing or not being able to pay a $200 price tag for their release that would have ensured their lives.
The five individuals said the facility in Ciudad Juarez operates as a “de facto extortion center” where only those with fiscal means are able to pay for their release.
Those who don’t or can’t are either deported back to Mexico City — 1,132.2 miles back south — or to the country of their origin, which has been mostly Central and South America.
One of the three survivors who spoke to Vice, a 28-year-old Venezuelan young man named Joan, said he had been detained in the facility for four hours the day of the fire and said he only survived because his family was able to make the $200 transfer to the guards by the mandatory deadline — before 7 p.m.
Any failure of payment meant immediate deportation.
But no one knew that what awaited them shortly thereafter was one of Mexico’s worst fires in recent history, with 39 fatalities to show for it — as the world woke up tragic photographs published by local Mexican outlet, Diario de Juarez and shared by the Associated Press that showed rows of bodies wrapped in silver sheets.
A day after the fire on Monday, March 27, surfaced surveillance footage showed guards walking away from the blaze just as it was starting to grow, leaving the migrants behind to die of smoke inhalation as the room fills up with smoke seconds after the guards leave the frame and before the video cuts out.
It had also been reported that one of the detainees was one of the five arrested on Thursday, March 30 which included three National Immigration Institute officials and two contracted security guards.
The one migrant in the cell allegedly started the fire in protest for not being given food and water by the guards for over 10 hours.
As the flames grew, one man attempted to escape by kicking down the cell door with another shielding himself from the heat by using the water from a toilet. Guards ignored the migrants’ pleas and walked out.
The center in Juarez was staffed by officers from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), including guards from a private security company. According to the three survivors and two guards who spoke to VICE World News, the INM officers and the guards allegedly were in charge of the scamming and extortion efforts of migrants in detention.
Extortion payments were transferred by family members into the personal bank accounts of the private security guards to make sure no evidence was found of the money going to Mexican officials, two private security guards who worked at the detention center told VICE World News.
Profits were then shared among all involved.
Jorge Vázquez Campbell, director of the Ciudad Juárez Bar Association of Refugee Defenders, filed a complaint with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the family of the deceased, accusing the heads of INM and its regional office of extortion.
It goes specifically against Salvador González Guerrero, head of the INM in the state of Chihuahua, and Daniel Goray Yosioka, manager of the detention center, as being the leaders of the extortion scheme. Goray is now under arrest while González is under investigation, according to authorities.
The Mexican government is also investigating seven officers who were working the night of March 27.
In the complaint, Guerrero and Yosioka allegedly charged migrants $500 for an “extended release” document that would allow them to be released, with the INM having between 30 to 80 migrants locked up in the facility at a time, but only the male migrants were extorted, the guard who worked at the facility for four years told VICE World News.
The worker also added that his superiors were all aware of the scheme and any employee who refused to participate was fired or sent to another facility “where there was no extra money to be made,” he said.
SEICSA S.A de C.V., a Mexico City-based company, operated private security at the Ciudad Juárez center from March 1, 2022 to Feb. 28, 2023, according to a copy of the contract reviewed by VICE World News.
It was uncovered that the extortion scheme even continued into their next provider, Mexico City-based Seguridad Privada CAMSA, which took over on March 1, 2023, according to the two guards, migrants held at the facility, and the complaint filed by an attorney representing the families of the dead migrants.
Another employee who worked at the facility in Juarez, including on the night of the fire, said that the guards were also selling cigarettes, lighters and “drugs of all kinds” to detainees. A pack of cigarettes were sold for $10 — the average price in Mexico is around $5 — and lighters for $2.50.
INM is an institution with a long history of accusations of corruption.
Officers have been accused of being involved in kidnapping rackets, extortion and working closely with human smugglers across the country. In August 2020, the agency fired more than 1,000 employees for acts of corruption.
The latest updates on arrest include four people responsible for security at the facility will be held on charges of homicide by omission and causing injuries, with the migrant who allegedly set the fire faces charges of homicide and causing injuries, Mexico’s Federal Judiciary Council said.