At least 39 people were killed after a fire broke out at a Mexican migration center near the U.S. border, officials said
|Tuesday, March 28, 2023 7:14 AM ET|
At least 39 people were killed on Monday night and 29 others seriously injured when a fire broke out at a government-run migration facility in northern Mexico, near the border with the United States, the authorities said.
The fire broke out in the accommodation area of a National Migration Institute facility in Ciudad Juárez, a border city across from El Paso, Texas, shortly before 10 p.m., according to a statement by the facility. Sixty-eight men from Central and South America were being housed there, it said.
The Mexican authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but according to the statement from the institute, the 29 injured men were in serious condition and had been transported to local hospitals for urgent care.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the men housed at the facility had been angry at authorities.
“As protest, at the door of the shelter, they put mattresses and set them on fire, and they did not imagine that this was going to cause this terrible tragedy,” said Mr. López Obrador at his regular daily news conference on Tuesday morning.
“We assume it was because they found out they were going to be deported,” he added.
The migrants were mainly from Central America and Venezuela, Mr. López Obrador said.
Television footage showed a swarm of police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles in the area. What appeared to be a number of bodies wrapped in large foil blankets could be seen in the facility’s parking lot, and people outside clung to the perimeter fence as emergency responders tended to the victims.
The institute said that it had begun communicating “with consular authorities from different countries” in order to identify the dead. A formal complaint had been lodged with what the statement identified as the “corresponding authorities,” clearing the way for an investigation, the statement said.
In the hours before the disaster, several news outlets said that personnel from the institute had been rounding up on migrants in the city who were begging or selling merchandise on the street, and that there had been tension at the institute between migrants and the staff.
Ciudad Juárez is one of the border communities in Mexico where migrants from Cuba, Central America and elsewhere wait as they try to enter the United States. Earlier this month, American officials stopped hundreds of migrants, most of them from Venezuela, from entering the country after a large group in Ciudad Juárez broke through Mexican lines in an attempt to claim asylum in the United States.
In December, the United States Supreme Court said that a pandemic-era health measure that restricted migration at the southern border would remain in place for the time being. That measure, known as Title 42, has allowed migrants who might otherwise qualify for asylum to be swiftly expelled at the border.
The court’s ruling delayed the potential for a large increase in unlawful crossings into the U.S. from Mexico. But the measure is scheduled to expire in early May.