Mexico’s top immigration official will face criminal charges in migrant detention center fire


Mexico’s top immigration official will face criminal charges in connection to a fire that killed 40 migrants, who were mostly Central American, inside a a government-run detention center in Ciudad Juarez last month.

Federal prosecutors announced their decision to charge Francisco Garduño, the head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, and five others in a news release Tuesday.

In accordance to Mexican laws, which aims to protect the identity of those under investigation, the Attorney General’s Office only identified Garduño and a second immigration official who will also face charges by their first names. Local press and the Associated Press later confirmed prosecutors were referring to Garduño.

The announcement follows repeated calls from officials in Central America and Mexico to continue investigating the case beyond the six arrests of lower-level officials, guards and a migrant on homicide charges.

Federal prosecutors allege that Garduño and the second immigration official identified as Antonio “N” engaged in criminal conduct by “failing to comply with their obligations” as government agency leaders and to monitor, protect and provide security to people and “under their charge, promoting crimes committed against migrants.”

Four other public servants prosecutors identified as Salvador “N,” Juan “N,” Cecilia “N,” and Eduardo “N” will also face charges for being “directly linked to the conduct” that led to the migrant deaths.

Prosecutors did not specify what charges will brought against any of these officials.

The investigation shows a “pattern of irresponsibility” in which Garduño was remiss in not preventing the deadly fire even though he was aware of issues riddling his agency’s detention centers, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said that after a fire at another detention center in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco killed one person and injured 14 in 2020, the immigration agency knew there were problems which needed to be corrected, but alleged they failed to act.

The press office of the immigration agency that Garduño heads has not responded to messages and phone calls requesting comment.

There have long been complaints regarding immigration detention centers but they have never been seriously addressed.

Anger initially focused on two guards caught on surveillance video were seen fleeing the March 27 fire, without unlocking the cell door to allow the migrants to escape.

The video from a security camera inside the detention center shows guards walking away when the fire started in late March inside the cell holding migrants. The guards are seen hurrying away as smoke fills the facility, and they did not appear to make any effort to release the migrants.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said earlier Tuesday the guards didn’t have the keys.

López Obrador’s comments about the guards came on the same day that the bodies of 17 Guatemala migrants and six Hondurans killed in the fire were flown back to their home countries.

It was unclear what effect López Obrador’s comments might have on the trial of the guards, who were detained previously over the fire.

“The door was closed, because the person who had the keys wasn’t there,” López Obrador said.

Three low-level Mexican immigration officials, a guard and a Venezuelan migrant were arrested in connection with 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.

Mexican military planes carried the bodies of six migrants to Honduras and 17 to Guatemala on Tuesday

In Guatemala City, relatives of the 17 fatal victims gathered at an air force base with flowers and photos of the deceased to mark their return. Those present sobbed as the coffins of their loved ones were unloaded from the plane and placed in a line. Relatives were allowed to approach them.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Búcaro accompanied the bodies, which were to be taken overland to their hometowns in nine different provinces.

Authorities say 19 of the 40 dead were from Guatemala, but two bodies were still in the process of having their identities confirmed.

An additional 11 Guatemalans were injured in the fire.

Some bodies of Salvadoran migrants were returned to El Salvador last week. So far, 31 bodies have been sent back to their home countries.

Associated Press contributed.


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