Photo: Christian Torres/AFP via Getty Images.
The investigation into the tragic fire continues. Photo: Christian Torres/AFP via Getty Images.

Guards walk away from detained migrants during fire, and other updates in aftermath of Ciudad Juarez blaze

Surveillance footage surfaced on Tuesday, March 28 that showed guards walking away from the soon-to-be-smoke-filled room, and leaving the migrants behind.


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After a fire broke out inside an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez where 38 migrants died, surfaced surveillance footage shows guards walking away from the blaze just as it’s starting to grow, leaving the migrants behind. 

The room completely fills up with smoke seconds after the guards leave the frame and before the video cuts out.

Mexico suffered its worst fire in recent times on Monday night, March 27, that killed 39 people. Authorities originally reported 40 dead, but then said some may have been counted twice in the confusion. 

The fire broke out inside the office of National Migration Institute (INM) just before 10 p.m. 

The INM, the institute overseeing the center that detains migrants waiting on requests for asylum in the U.S. or preparing to cross the border, released a statement confirming 68 men from Central and South America were being held at the facility. 

Around 28 Guatemalan nationals were among the deceased, as confirmed by Guatemala’s Institute of Migration. One man was Colombian, one was Ecuadorian, 12 were Salvadoran, 13 were Honduran and 13 were Venezuelan, the INM said.

At the moment, it’s uncertain as to how many people of each nationality were killed or injured. According to the government of Mexico’s Chihuahua state, at least 11 migrants are still in the hospital being treated. 

It was reported that authorities had spent the better part of the day gathering migrants, some of whom were asking for handouts or washing car windows at stoplights in this city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

While the official cause of the blaze has not been released as the investigation is still ongoing, Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during his first official statement on the fire that the process to identify the victims names and nationalities is ongoing. 

“What we know so far is that migrants from Central America and some from Venezuela were in that shelter. We still do not know exactly the names and nationalities of those who unfortunately lost their lives,” López Obrador said. 

Mexican citizens were also surprised to hear when AMLO said at the briefing that the men started the fires themselves, burning mattresses in protest upon learning about their deportation.

“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,” he said. 

“It is very sad that this is happening,” the president added.

Immigration activist Irineo Mujica told POLITICO that migrants fear being sent back, not to their home countries, but to southern Mexico. They would have to go through Mexico 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 fire has served as another big reminder for Mexico and the U.S. about the life-threatening situations migrants and refugees face crossing the border regardless of some of the inevitable consequences. 

It has also raised concerns about the safety, security, and overall effectiveness of migrant detention centers, especially after seeing the footage where the workers in the facility left the migrants behind as the room filled with smoke within seconds. 

The footage, which was broadcast and later authenticated by a Mexican official to a local a reporter shows two guards coming into the frame, before walking off as migrants remain behind bars. 

The fire is the hardest to hit an immigration detention center in Mexico and sheds more light on the toughening migration policies that have been put in place by Biden, which include limits on the number of people allowed to seek asylum. 

As a result, it has left cities along the northern border overwhelmed by migrants waiting their turn and with many others forced to sleep on the streets or inside churches. 

All eyes are now on the Biden Administration and Mexico concerning immigration reform, this includes a representative of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Oscar Ibáñez Rubio, calling for reform. 

“It’s fundamental that the federal government changes its immigration policies. We must have better containment measures before immigrants get to this state and find ways to integrate them into society.”


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