Arrest orders issued for 6 in Mexican detention center fire

Arrest orders issued after fire

A Mexican court on Thursday issued arrest orders for six people in relation to the fire that killed 39 migrants at a detention facility earlier this week in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, according to the federal prosecutor leading the investigation.

Sara Irene Herrerías said the six include three officials from the National Immigration Institute, two private security guards contracted by the agency and the person accused of starting the fire. Herrerías said five of the six have already been arrested and they will face charges of homicide and causing injuries.

At least 39 migrants died after apparently starting a fire inside a holding cell at the facility Monday night. More than two dozen other migrants were injured.

A video from a security camera inside the Ciudad Juarez facility showed guards walking away when the fire started late Monday inside the cell holding the migrants and not making any attempt to release them. It was not clear whether those guards had keys to the cell doors.

On Wednesday, a complaint filed with federal investigators from the 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 complaint filed by Lawyer Jorge Vázquez Campbell said retired Navy Rear Adm. Salvador González Guerrero, the Chihuahua state delegate for the National Immigration Institute, “gave the order by way of a phone call that under no circumstances should the migrants ‘housed’ inside the place where the fire started be released.”

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the allegations nor to a request to speak with González.

Campbell said he would not reveal his clients' identities for their protection, beyond saying they were connected to the case.

Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that eight suspects who worked at the facility were under investigation, as well as one migrant accused of starting the fire. Herrería said that González was not one of the eight officials called in to give statements about the incident.

Campbell said his clients told him that one of the detained migrants asked a guard for a cigarette and a lighter and then five migrants who had been detained that day began to protest.

“The officials made fun of them, they got irritated, and two of them (migrants) set a mattress on fire,” Campbell said.

That was the moment, Campbell said, that immigration agents at the facility notified González of the fire and he “told them not to do anything and under no circumstances should they let them leave.”

Herrerías said prosecutors have not yet seen any evidence such a call was made, but investigations are ongoing.

Authorities in the region have known that foam mattresses in such facilities are easily set alight and can cause massive smoke clouds, ever since a similar fire at a state-run home for troubled youths in Guatemala killed 41 girls in 2017.

Mexico's immigration detention centers have been plagued for years by accusations of corruption and bad conditions.

The circumstances of the fire have angered families across the region who were still awaiting confirmation of whether their loved ones were dead or alive.

Late Wednesday, hundreds of migrants walked across the border in Ciudad Juarez in protest and turned themselves over to U.S. authorities.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Thursday that he had told the attorney general to not give anyone special consideration and that impunity would not be permitted.

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