On Tuesday night, the federal Attorney General’s Office announced that it would press criminal charges against the head of Mexican Immigration Institute for a fire that killed 40 migrants in a locked cell. The office accused Francisco Garduño, the head of the agency, of being criminally negligent for not preventing the fire, despite earlier incidents indicating that the situation at the country’s migrant detention centers required attention.
The statement further announced that several other officers of the agency would also face charges for failing to carry out their duties. However, the prosecutors did not specify the charges or identify the officials.
The prosecutors asserted that the case demonstrated a “pattern of irresponsibility.” Just hours before this, Mexico’s president stated that two guards who fled when the fire broke out did not have keys to the cell door.
The press office of the immigration agency that Garduño heads did immediately respond to messages and phone calls requesting comment.
Prosecutors stated that the immigration agency was aware of the need to address problems following a fire at another detention center in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, which killed one person and injured 14 in 2020. However, they allege that the agency failed to act on this knowledge.
Conditions In Detention Facilities
There have long been complaints about corruption and bad conditions at Mexico’s migrant dentention facilities.
On the same day that authorities flew the bodies of 17 Guatemalan migrants and six Hondurans killed in the fire in Ciudad Juarez back to their home countries, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made comments regarding the guards involved in the incident.
It was unclear how López Obrador’s comments would affect the trial of the guards, who had been previously detained over the fire that had caused shock throughout the country.
López Obrador said, “The door was closed because the individual with the keys was not present.”
A video from a security camera inside the facility shows guards walking away when the fire started in late March inside the cell holding migrants.
Smoke filled the facility, and witnesses saw the guards quickly leaving without attempting to release the migrants.
Authorities are detaining three Mexican immigration officials, a guard, and a Venezuelan migrant for investigation related to the fire. They face homicide charges.
The migrant allegedly set fire to foam mattresses at the detention center to protest what he apparently thought were plans to move or deport the migrants.
In Guatemala City, relatives of the victims gathered at an air force base with flowers and photos of the deceased to mark their return.
As those present unloaded and arranged the coffins in a line, and authorities permitted relatives to approach them, a female voice cried out amidst sobs, “My son, my love.”
Mexican military planes carried the bodies six migrants to Honduras and 17 to Guatemala.
Authorities reported that 19 of the 40 deceased were from Guatemala, but they were still in the process of confirming the identities of two bodies.