JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – A video obtained by a renowned Mexican journalist shows immigration officers walking away from a fire as men inside a locked cell frantically try to kick the door open.
The video purportedly shows the moment a fire inside the Mexican immigration offices in Juarez starts and quickly gets out of control, killing 40 detained migrants and forcing 29 others to be hospitalized.
“If there was a fire there should have been someone with the keys to the lock to open the cells. They did not do it,” asked Juan Pavon, a Venezuelan citizen who on Tuesday joined dozens of other migrants and activists demanding justice in the wake of a tragedy that has quickly garnered international attention. “We don’t want impunity; we want the UN to send a commission to come and do an in-depth investigation.”
The migrants laid flowers and candles outside the gate where the fire broke out Monday night and shouted in frustration at Mexican soldiers on the other side of the gate.
“Asesinos!” (Assassins) “Instead of protecting us, you are killing us!” the migrants shouted.
Juarez officials, whose fire crews and civil protection staff fought the fire and assisted the survivors, deferred all questions about the investigation to the Mexican federal government.
The National Migration Institute (INM), whose officers are responsible for the facility, on Tuesday issued a statement saying an investigation is ongoing. No INM officials came out to talk to reporters when news crews asked to speak with someone in authority in Juarez on Tuesday.
“The INM expresses its willingness to assist in the investigation so that the facts surrounding this unfortunate incident become clear,” the statement said.
But such words fell on the deaf ears of migrants stuck in Juarez as well as Mexican citizens skeptical of their authorities.
“I don’t believe the migrants started the fire. From the moment they detain us, they take everything away from us. They beat us and when they throw us in the cells, they search us for lighters, matches and everything — with no belt, with the shoes without shoelaces,” said Antonio Rivas, a Nicaraguan migrant.
Zugey Villalba, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, who knows several migrants, said she, too, suspects the migrants did not start the fire. “It’s a smoke screen. They (the authorities) set off the fire.”
Across the border, groups in El Paso, Texas, also demanded an in-depth investigation.
“This Mexican agency (INM) has expressed that they are not a detention center, but rather a temporary accommodation center. However, migrants were key-locked inside the INM when the fire was reported, leaving them trapped in the deadly fire,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “With the utmost urgency, we call for a public and transparent investigation that provides a clear explanation for this incident and demand the necessary reparations for the victims and families of this horrific tragedy.”
Garcia said the tragedy is “a wake up call” for investing in infrastructure to process asylum seekers in the United States, rather than leaving them to their fate in Mexico.
“We are angry, but we are also tired. Angry and tired at having to make yet another statement in order to convince those in power on both sides of the border that it is unacceptable and inhumane to rest the weight of politics on the shoulders of those looking for safety at our borders,” said Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “This is another horrific tragedy resulting from punitive and racist enforcement and border deterrence policies that have only resulted in hundreds of migrant deaths.”
She called on the Biden administration to fully restore asylum at U.S. borders.