Newsman: “ More than three dozen migrants died in a dormitory fire at an immigration detention center in northern Mexico near the U.S. border, immigration officials said Tuesday.
The blaze broke out shortly before 10 p.m. local time Monday, according to the immigration agency At least 40 people had died and 29 injuries had been reported as of late Tuesday, the immigration institute confirmed in a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday. The injured were taken to hospitals, the institute said.
The migrants started the fire in protest, lighting their sleeping mats after learning they were being deported, said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at his morning press briefing.
Victims were identified as being from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Guatemalans made up the largest contingent, according to the Mexican attorney general’s office.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said,
The fire broke out when migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze late Monday at the National Immigration Institute, a facility in Ciudad Juarez south of El Paso, Texas.
President López Obrador said the fire was started by migrants inside the facility after they learned they would be deported.
“They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune,” López Obrador said.
Authorities were investigating the fire, the institute said.
The country’s prosecutor general has launched an investigation, Andrea Chávez, federal deputy of Ciudad Juarez, said in a statement.
The immigration institute said it “energetically rejects the actions that led to this tragedy,” without further explaining what those actions may have been.
In an update issued by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday, the office shared the nationalities of all but one of the victims, including 28 Guatemalans, 13 Hondurans, 12 Venezuelans, 12 Salvadorans, 1 Colombian and 1 Ecuadorian.
The 29 injured migrants were listed in “delicate-grave” condition and taken to four local hospitals for treatment, the immigration agency said.
The institute said 68 men from Central and South America were staying at the immigration facility at the time of the fire. Authorities were working with other countries to identify the dead.
Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Mario Búcaro said 28 of the dead were Guatemalan citizens.
“We are going to look to find those responsible for this,” Búcaro said.
Global human rights organizations called for stronger protections for asylum seekers and expressed outrage over the fire, which they said sheds light on systemic issues related to the detention and treatment of migrants.
The fire serves as a “reminder to the governments of the region of the importance of fixing a broken migration system,” said Ken Salazar, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, in a Twitter statement.
The immigration institute has struggled recently with overcrowding in its facilities. About 20 migrants, officials and human rights workers described a southern Mexico immigration detention center run by the institute as crowded and filthy, according to an investigation by The Associated Press in 2019.
The “extensive use of immigration detention leads to tragedies like this,” Felipe González Morales, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights of migrants, said in a Twitter statement. He said immigration detention “should be an exceptional measure” and not generalized.
Human rights organizations have warned for years about the risks people from Central and South America face when trying to apply for asylum in the United States, Rafael Velásquez, Mexico director for the International Rescue Committee, a global human rights organization, said in a statement.
The national immigration agency says it’s reached out to foreign consulates to identify the victims. It also says it asked Mexico’s National Council on Human Rights to investigate the incident.