The leader of Mexico’s immigration agency, Francisco Garduno, has been charged with failing to ensure the safety of migrants and asylum seekers in the country’s detention centres. The charges come after a fire at a Ciudad Juarez detention centre last month killed 40 people. Prosecutors allege that Garduno should have closed facilities that did not meet safety requirements and that the case indicates a “pattern of irresponsibility” on the part of the immigration institute. The fire has drawn attention to the conditions experienced by migrants and asylum seekers in countries such as Mexico, where they are often subjected to abuse and denied basic rights.
The fire, which occurred on March 27, gained international attention after a video circulated showing guards making no effort to free a group of 68 men locked in a cell at the detention centre. Private security guards reportedly asked officials for permission to release the detained men when the fire began but were told not to do so. More than two dozen people were injured in the fire, in addition to the 40 deaths. Many of those affected were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Venezuela. Mexican authorities have claimed that the migrants and asylum seekers caused the fire to protest their conditions and deportation.
Prosecutors have suggested that corruption and exploitation were common prior to the fire. Several migrants in the shelter said they were told they could secure their release by paying $1,000. In April, a Mexican judge ordered the arrest of three immigration officials, a private security guard, and a Venezuelan migrant in connection with the Juarez fire. The highest-ranking official to be tried so far is the immigration agency’s delegate in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, retired Navy Rear Admiral Salvador Gonzalez. He has been charged with homicide and causing injury by omission.
Garduno, who previously oversaw Mexico’s prison system, was appointed to run the country’s immigration agency in 2019 when the country was under pressure from the United States to crack down on migrants and asylum seekers travelling northward. Some advocates point to recent changes in immigration law, such as the cross-border expulsion policy Title 42 in the US and other deterrents, as exacerbating the conditions that led to the fire.
“The countries in the region, led by the United States, have established shared migration policies that are increasingly inhumane, making it almost impossible to access the right to seek asylum and forcing people to seek more dangerous routes that place them in even more vulnerable situations,” said the rights group Amnesty International in a statement following the fire. The incident has highlighted the need for greater attention to be paid to the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers and for measures to be taken to ensure their safety and well-being.