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Migrants fearing deportation set fire that killed at least 39, Mexico's president says

Kate Linthicum, Leila Miller and Gabriela Minjares, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — At least 39 migrants were killed and dozens more were injured Monday night when a fire broke out in an immigrant detention center in Mexico, just south of the U.S. border, authorities said Tuesday.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the blaze in Ciudad Juarez began when migrants ignited mattresses after they found out they were going to be deported to their home countries. He said most of the dead were from Central and South America.

“They never imagined that it would cause this terrible misfortune,” López Obrador said.

A Mexican federal official with knowledge of the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the migrants were protesting because 68 of them were packed into a cell meant for no more than 50 people and they had no access to drinking water.

The fire erupted at a National Migration Institute lockup about 400 feet south of the Rio Bravo, which separates Juarez from El Paso. It was the deadliest incident in recent memory to take place at one of Mexico’s notoriously crowded immigration holding centers..

Migrants advocates said the fire is further evidence that Mexico is not equipped to manage and care for the record number of people who have been stranded here as they attempt to reach the United States.


Advocates warned that the crises is likely to worsen this summer, when the U.S. implements a new policy to turn back even more asylum-seekers to Mexico.

“As the U.S. continues to implement policies that push asylum-seekers back into Mexico, humanitarian infrastructure in the country is increasingly strained and more people are stuck in highly vulnerable situations,” said Rafael Velásquez, of the International Rescue Committee. “Unless political will and resources from within the government and international community are used to face this problem, something like this could easily happen again.”

On Tuesday, dozens of migrants descended on the site of the still-smoldering holding facility to protest and demand information about loved ones whom they feared had perished inside.

“They were left to die!” one migrant shouted at authorities guarding the site.


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