Fire at migrant center in Mexico near El Paso kills at least 39

Mexico’s president said the fire started in the Juárez center when migrants learned they would be deported and set fire to mattresses in protest. Twenty-nine injured migrants were sent to local hospitals.


Medics give aid to a migrant who survived a fire that broke out at a Mexican immigration detention center in Ciudad Juárez on Monday, March 27, 2023. At least 39 people died in the fire.

EL PASO — At least 39 migrants died in a fire Monday night after flames engulfed a migrant facility in Ciudad Juárez, near the Rio Grande.

The National Immigration Institute, Mexico's immigration regulatory office, said the fire started at about 10 p.m. in one of its facilities in Juárez, near a bridge that connects the Mexican city to El Paso.

There were a total of 68 men in the facility, 29 of whom were injured and transported to four local hospitals in "delicate-serious conditions," the agency said in a statement.

The men are from Central and South America and Mexican officials are working with consulates to help identify the victims, the institute said.

During his daily morning news conference, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the fire started when migrants at the detention center learned they were being deported and set fire to mattresses in protest.

The immigration agency called for an investigation and said it "expresses its willingness to assist in the investigation, to clarify these unfortunate events. This immigration authority will promptly monitor the evolution of the health status of those who are hospitalized and will provide full support to the families of the victims," the statement said. "The National Institute of Migration strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy."

In recent months, migrants from Central and South America have arrived at the Texas-Mexico border, many of whom are seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing corrupt governments, violence, and impoverished conditions in their respective countries.

Since March 2020, U.S. Border Patrol agents have turned away many people attempting to enter the country, including migrants seeking asylum, because of the federal emergency health order known as Title 42. Agents have used Title 42 more than 2.6 million times to turn away migrants at the southern border.

On May 11, the Biden administration plans to end the COVID-19 national and public health order that had allowed the government to invoke Title 42. The order, which was imposed by the Trump administration in January 2020 and renewed every 90 days since then, helped Americans receive COVID-19 tests and vaccines at the government's expense; ending it means that migrant removals under Title 42 will automatically come to a halt.

In January, the Biden administration also created a new immigration plan that would allow 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter the country and be able to work legally for up to two years.

In order to qualify, people must apply using a cellphone application called CBP One to make an appointment at a port of entry before they try to enter the U.S. But some migrants have reported that the cellphone application has crashed repeatedly, leaving them stranded in Mexican border towns.

This is a breaking story and will continue to be updated.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/03/28/migrant-deaths-juarez-mexico-el-paso-fire/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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