Surveillance footage from inside the immigration detention center in northern Mexico near the U.S. border where 38 migrants died in a dormitory fire appears to show guards walking away from the blaze and making no apparent attempt to release detainees.
The fire broke out when migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze late Monday at the National Immigration Institute, a facility in Ciudad Juarez south of El Paso, Texas, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said.
Authorities originally reported 40 dead, but later said some may have been counted twice in the confusion. Twenty-eight people were injured and were in “delicate-serious” condition, according to the National Immigration Institute.
The security footage, which was broadcast and later authenticated by a Mexican official to a local reporter, shows at least two people dressed as guards rush into the frame, then run off as a cloud of smoke quickly filled the area. They did not appear to attempt to open cell doors so migrants could escape the fire.
Authorities were investigating the fire, the institute said. The country’s prosecutor general has launched an investigation, Andrea Chávez, federal deputy of Ciudad Juarez, said in a statement. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission also was alerted.
What caused the fire?
López Obrador said the fire was started by migrants inside the facility after they learned they would be deported.
“They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune,” López Obrador said.
The immigration institute said it “energetically rejects the actions that led to this tragedy,” without further explaining what those actions may have been.
The video shows guards leaving as the fire starts
The video footage shows the area in the facility filled with smoke within seconds, obscuring the view of the camera. In the video, two people dressed as guards are seen rushing into the frame, then walking quickly off as migrants remain behind bars. At least one migrant is seen kicking at a cell door while flames grow.
Mexico’s interior secretary, Adán Augusto López, told local journalist Joaquín López Doriga he was familiar with the video.
Katiuska Márquez, a 23-year-old woman from Venezuela, and her two children, ages 2 and 4, were looking for her half-brother in the aftermath of the fire.
“We want to know if he is alive or if he’s dead,” she told The Associated Press. She wondered how all the guards who were inside made it out alive and only the migrants died. “How could they not get them out?”
Migrants from Central and South America caught in the blaze
The institute said 68 men from Central and South America were staying at the immigration facility at the time of the fire. Authorities were working with other countries to identify the dead.
Victims were identified as being from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Guatemalans made up the largest contingent, according to the Mexican attorney general’s office.
Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Mario Búcaro said 28 of the dead were Guatemalan citizens.
“We are going to look to find those responsible for this,” Búcaro said.