April 2023International News

Mexico Charges Immigration Officers Over Deadly Migrant Center Fire

Ashley Skladany
Staff Writer

On March 27,  a deadly fire broke out at a migrant center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, killing nearly 40 people, reports BBC News. Investigations revealed that some of the immigration officers assigned to the center had neglected their duty during the fire, leading to widespread outrage. Recently, the Mexican government announced that it will be charging multiple immigration officers, security guards, and the suspect who started the fire, reports NPR. Furthermore, five of the six have already been arrested and will face charges of homicide and causing injuries.

The Ciudad Juárez migrant center is one of several facilities operated by the Mexican government to provide temporary housing and services to migrants who are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. The center is known for its poor living conditions, overcrowding, and general corruption which have been a source of criticism by many human rights organizations and advocacy groups. On the day of the fire, there were more than 200 people staying at the facility, including women and children.

According to reports, the fire started in the early morning and quickly spread throughout the center. Many of the migrants were unable to escape due to locked doors and barred windows. The response from the immigration officers was heavily criticized, as many of them were seen leaving the scene instead of helping the migrants. According to Al Jazeera, two guards “were seen fleeing the March 27 fire, without unlocking the cell door to allow migrants to escape.” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended their actions, claiming “they did not have the keys.”

Politico reports that there were “38 dead in all and 28 seriously injured” after a migrant set ablaze a mattress in protest of the living conditions. Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the fire had been started by one of the migrants as a protest in response to learning they would soon be deported, CNN emphasizes. Following the incident, a complaint filed with federal investigators from the federal Attorney General’s Office “accused the state’s top immigration official of knowing about the fire but ordering that the migrants not be released.” 

The charges the Mexican government has so far identified are a significant step towards holding those responsible for the deadly incident accountable. This migrant center is just one example of the many facilities that are overcrowded and under-resourced, making them vulnerable to incidents such as this one. The charges against the immigration officers are an important step towards justice for the victims and their families, observers say.

The deadly fire at the migrant center highlights the dangerous conditions that many migrants face in their search for a better life. Mexico is not the only country facing this issue. Many other countries also have inadequate facilities for migrants, which can lead to unsafe and inhumane conditions. Brother of Orlando José Maldonado Pérez, a Venezuelan migrant who died in the fire, expressed in a BBC News interview that his “mum is in pieces, she never thought Orlando’s life would come to an end in such a cruel way, when he was so close to achieving his dream.” This incident highlights the importance of adequate safety protocols in migrant housing facilities around the world. 

While the charges were welcomed, many observers point out that more action must be taken by the Mexican government to improve the housing condition of migrants in general, according to TIME. According to reports, Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), which regulates migrant entries into the country, has known about the inefficiencies of migrant housing facilities since 2017. Title 42, the U.S. policy that allowed the expulsion of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. due to COVID-19 concerns, has also been blamed for increasing the number of migrants in Mexico. While different governments attempt to resolve migration issues, the migrants themselves continue to be among the most marginalized populations of any country. 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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