Ciudad Juarez (Mexico), March 30 (AP) — Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are investigating possible misconduct by eight employees or officials at an immigration detention center where a fire killed 39 detained men.
Anger and frustration boiled over in the northern border city of Ciudad Juárez as hundreds of migrants approached the US border gate in hopes of mass transit.
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Mexican officials appeared to blame private subcontracted security guards at the Ciudad Juarez detention center on the border with El Paso, Texas, for the deaths in the fire late Monday.
The video showed guards apparently not attempting to release the detainees, but hurried away from the smoking fire.
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No charges were announced, but authorities said they would seek at least four arrest warrants later in the day, including one for an immigrant they said was a small group that started the fire.
A migrant also damaged a security camera in the cell where the fire broke out, they said.
Federal Public Safety Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez said five of those under investigation for possible wrongdoing were private security guards, two were federal immigration agents and one was a Chihuahua state official.
The focus of the investigation was that guards appeared to make no effort to open cell doors for the detainees — nearly all of whom were from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela and El Salvador — before the smoke filled the room within seconds.
The deaths were dismaying and likely played a role in the massive march of hundreds of migrants late Wednesday afternoon as they began heading toward U.S. border crossings, trusting U.S. authorities to let them pass.
Adding to the outrage over the deaths was the pent-up frustration of migrants who had spent weeks trying to book appointments on U.S. phone apps to file asylum claims. Rumors circulated among the immigrants that they might be allowed into the United States.
Holding hands with his 9-year-old daughter, Jorman Colón, a 30-year-old Venezuelan immigrant, said he heard on social media that acquaintances had connected.
“We want to turn ourselves in,” Colon said, referring to the first step in the asylum process.
Hundreds of migrants crossing the shallow Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States approached a gate on the border fence separating El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Armed agents stand guard at the gates of the United States.
“The app never gives us (dating) dates,” complained Victoria Molina, a 24-year-old immigrant from Venezuela.
A group of about 50 immigrants initially approached a Border Patrol vehicle and personnel and sat or knelt on the ground. About 25 of them were then marched through the gates into the United States in a single file and boarded a white school bus-style vehicle that drove away.
U.S. officials said late Wednesday that about 1,000 migrants had crossed the river and were being processed in an orderly manner.
It was unclear whether they would be allowed to stay or be sent to an official border crossing for deportation.
Smoke began billowing from the immigration detention center late Monday after a group of detained immigrants set fire to foam mattresses in protest of what they believed to be plans to divert or deport them.
Immigration authorities said they released 15 women when the fire broke out, but did not explain why no men were released.
Immigration agents and security guards from a private contractor were at the facility, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Pope Francis concluded his general audience with a prayer for those who lost their lives in the “tragic fire.”
Leaked surveillance footage showed migrants reportedly fearing they would be transferred, placing foam mattresses on the railings of their detention cells and setting them on fire.
In video later confirmed by the government, two men in security uniforms burst into the camera, and at least one immigrant appeared next to a metal gate on the other side.
But the guards appeared to make no effort to open the cell doors and hurried away as billows of smoke filled the building in seconds.
It wasn’t clear whether the two guards actually had the keys, but authorities said Wednesday they should have had them or opened the locks — a difficult task given how quickly the smoke was spreading.
US authorities have offered to help treat some of the nearly 30 critically or seriously ill patients hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
The migrants are stuck in Ciudad Jaurez because U.S. immigration policy does not allow them to cross the border to make an asylum claim. But they were rounded up because Ciudad Juarez residents were tired of migrants blocking border crossings or demanding money.
“Neighbors have made multiple complaints about a group of migrants, we don’t know if it was this group or that group, who allegedly acted aggressively and demanded money from people on the street,” Rodriguez said.
The heightened frustration in Ciudad Juárez was already evident earlier this month when hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants tried to force their way across an international bridge to El Paso amid false rumors that the United States would allow them into the country. .
American authorities thwarted their attempt.
Since then, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Cruz Pérez Cuellar has launched a campaign to inform migrants that there is space in shelters and that there is no need to beg on the streets.
He urged residents not to give them money and said authorities removed dangerous migrant intersections for begging, which residents considered a nuisance.
On Wednesday, the mayor told The Associated Press that his office has not received any reports of violations of the rights of immigrants in detention facilities. He insisted that his government bears no responsibility for what happened.
“This is a terrible tragedy that pains us all. We grieve,” he said, adding that authorities should “hold legally accountable those The man at the gate.” (AP)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)