Mexico’s top immigration official will face criminal charges in connection with a fire that killed 40 mostly Central American migrants inside a government-run detention center in Ciudad Juárez last month.
Federal prosecutors announced their decision to charge Francisco Garduño, director of Mexico’s National Migration Institute, and five other people in a Press release Tuesday.
In accordance with Mexican law, which is intended to protect the identity of those investigated, the Attorney General’s Office only identified Garduño and a second immigration official who will also face charges by their first names. local press and the Associated Press Prosecutors later confirmed that they were referring to Garduño.
The announcement follows repeated calls by officials in Central America and Mexico to continue investigating the case beyond the six arrests of lower-ranking officials, guards and a migrant on murder charges.
Federal prosecutors allege that Garduño and the second immigration official identified as Antonio «N» engaged in criminal conduct by «failing to comply with their obligations» as leaders of government agencies and to monitor, protect, and provide security to people and «at their expense.» , promoting crimes committed against migrants”.
Four other public prosecutors identified as Salvador «N», Juan «N», Cecilia «N» and Eduardo «N» will also face charges for being «directly linked to the conduct» that led to the death of the migrants.
Prosecutors did not specify what charges will be brought against any of these officials.
The investigation shows a “pattern of irresponsibility” in which Garduño was negligent in failing to prevent the deadly fire even though he was aware of the problems plaguing his agency’s detention centers, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said that after a fire at another detention center in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco killed one person and injured 14 in 2020, the immigration agency knew there were problems that needed to be fixed, but they claimed they did not act.
The press office of the immigration agency that Garduño heads has not responded to messages and phone calls requesting comment.
There have long been complaints about immigration detention centers, but they have never been seriously addressed.
The anger initially focused on two guards caught on surveillance video fleeing the fire on March 27, without opening the cell door to allow the migrants to escape.
Video from a security camera inside the detention center shows guards walking away when a fire started in late March inside the cell housing the migrants. Guards are seen rushing away as smoke fills the facility and they appear to make no effort to free the migrants.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday that the guards did not have the keys.
López Obrador’s comments about the guards came the same day that the bodies of 17 Guatemalan migrants and six Hondurans killed in the fire were flown back to their countries of origin.
It was unclear what effect López Obrador’s comments might have on the trial of the guards, who were previously detained for the arson.
“The door was closed, because the person who had the keys was not there,” López Obrador said.
Three low-level Mexican immigration officials, a guard and a Venezuelan migrant were arrested in connection with the fire. They face murder charges.
The migrant allegedly set fire to foam mattresses at the detention center to protest what he apparently thought were plans to move or deport migrants.
Mexican military planes took the bodies of six migrants to Honduras and 17 to Guatemala on Tuesday
In Guatemala City, relatives of the 17 fatalities gathered at an air force base with flowers and photos of the deceased to mark their return. Those present sobbed as the coffins of their loved ones were unloaded from the plane and lined up. Family members were allowed to approach them.
Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Búcaro accompanied the bodies, which would be transferred by land to their places of origin in nine different provinces.
Authorities say 19 of the 40 dead were from Guatemala, but two bodies were still in the process of identity confirmation.
Another 11 Guatemalans were injured in the fire.
Some bodies of Salvadoran migrants were returned to El Salvador last week. Until now, 31 bodies have been returned to their countries of origin.
Associated Press contributed.