40 migrants killed last year in a fire at Mexican facility were locked in by immigration officials: Report

By March 21, 2024

Mexico City, Mexico—- A special report published on March 19 by United States media outlets LightHouse Reports, El Paso Matters, as well as Mexico’s La Verdad revealed new evidence about the fire at a migrant detention facility in northern Mexico last year that killed 40 migrants trapped in the building. 

The report reveals the appalling conditions in which the detention facility was found, the dehumanizing treatment of migrants by their custodians, and how immigration officials kept the migrants incarcerated while the fire spread, dooming them.

On March 27, 2023, the border city of Ciudad Juarez in northwestern Mexico witnessed one of the worst migration crises in the country’s history. While the Mexican and U.S. governments jointly intensified efforts to stem the flow of migrants northward, an immigration detention facility run by Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) caught fire, resulting in the deaths of 40 migrants who were left trapped inside the facility. 

The government blamed the fire on a young Venezuelan who set fire to the quilts inside the cells and a handful of immigration officials. To date, the government has arrested eight INM officials related to the deaths of the migrants and has paid a little over USD $8 million to the families of the victims. 

Compiling hours of CCTV footage, thousands of documents, and previously unreleased testimonies from the fire’s survivors, the joint report has shed light on the year-old case and challenged the Mexican government’s official version of events. 

“No… we’re not going to open up for them.” 

The fire started after Jeison Daniel N and Carlos Eduardo N, immigrants from Venezuela, who had been charged with homicide, burned cots inside the cell in protest of the conditions in the facility and treatment by immigration officials.  

The report describes how the lack of smoke alarms, fire extinguishers inside the cell, and sealed entrances and windows contributed to the migrants’ deaths. However, the key detail within the report is the unedited audio that reveals how the officers decided to leave the migrants locked up while the fire spread. 

Ignoring the pleas of the incarcerated migrants, a female official is heard saying, “No… we’re not going to open up for them,” while the rest of the team rushed to open the gates to release some of the detained women. 

According to the investigation, the facilities where the migrants were held and the protocols to which they were subjected were prison-style cells, which initially represented a threat to the migrants. 

Overcrowded conditions added to the danger as the detention center, with a maximum capacity of 60, held over 100 people. In addition, windows and emergency exits were sealed, making escape and ventilation impossible while mattresses were ablaze. The report also mentions that none of the seven smoke detectors worked on the night of the fire. 

So far, there are eight officials accused by Mexico’s Attorney’s General for the death of the 40 migrants, including Francisco Garduño Yáñez, head of the INM. However, Yáñez is facing his judicial process in freedom and continues to be in charge of the migration body. 

In addition, three people outside of the INM have been arrested in connection with the tragedy, including the two Venezuelans, Jeison Daniel N and Carlos Eduardo, and a private security guard.