Arrest warrant issued for 6 people in Mexican detention center

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican court on Thursday issued arrest warrants for six people in connection with the fire that killed 39 migrants at a detention facility in the border city of Ciudad Juarez this week, according to the federal prosecutor leading the investigation.

Sara Irene Herrerías said those included were three officers from the National Immigration Institute, two private security guards hired by the agency and the detained migrant accused of setting the fire. She said five of the six have already been arrested and face charges of manslaughter and causing injuries.

At least 39 migrants died after they apparently set a fire in a detention cell at the facility Monday night. More than two dozen others were injured.

Federal Public Safety Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez said 27 migrants remained in hospital, all in serious or critical condition. Another migrant has been released, she said. The alleged arsonist was only slightly injured and has already been released from the hospital, presumably in custody.

Rodríguez also said the private security firm involved, which they identified as Grupo de Seguridad Privada CAMSA, had a federal contract to provide security at immigration facilities in 23 states. She said her license to operate would be revoked and she could face a fine.

Rodríguez said 48 federal agents would perform security duties at migrant facilities in the state of Chihuahua where the fire broke out.

A video from a security camera at the facility in Ciudad Juarez showed guards walk away when the fire broke out in the cell where migrants were being held and made no attempt to release them. It was not clear if these guards had keys to the cell doors.

On Wednesday, a complaint filed with federal investigators at the federal prosecutor’s office accused the state’s top immigration official of knowing about the blaze but ordering that the migrants not be released.

The complaint, filed by attorney Jorge Vázquez Campbell, said retired Navy Rear Admiral Salvador González Guerrero, the Chihuahua State Delegate to the National Immigration Institute, “directed by phone call that under no circumstances should the migrants be ‘housed’ inside should be extinguished at the place where the fire started.”

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations or a request to speak with González.

Campbell said he would not reveal the identities of his clients for their protection, other than that they are connected to the case.

Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that eight suspects against those working at the facility, as well as the migrant accused of starting the fire. Herrerías said at the time that González was not one of the eight officers who were called to testify about the incident.

Herrerías, the prosecutor, said Thursday that their investigations would span the immigration service’s entire chain of command to determine what acts or omissions might be punishable.

When asked directly whether González had been called to testify, Rodríguez said prosecutors would not say anything that could jeopardize the case, but that the investigation would go where needed.

Campbell said his clients told him that one of the arrested migrants asked a guard for a cigarette and a lighter, and five migrants arrested that day began protesting.

“The officers made fun of them, they got irritated and two of them[migrants]set fire to a mattress,” Campbell said.

That was the moment, Campbell said, when immigration officers at the facility alerted González to the fire and he “told them not to do anything and under no circumstances let them go.”

Herrerías said on Wednesday that prosecutors have not yet seen evidence that such a call was made, but the investigation is continuing.

Authorities in the region have known that foam mattresses in such facilities can easily catch fire, causing thick plumes of smoke, since a similar fire at a government home for distressed youth in Guatemala killed 41 girls in 2017.

“That’s part of the investigation, asking why these mattresses caught fire,” Rodríguez said Thursday. “We’re going to investigate why these mattresses caught fire, when it shouldn’t have happened.”

Rodríguez refused to answer questions about the locked cell, the location of the keys and the origin of the lighter, saying these issues are all part of the investigation.

Allegations of corruption and poor conditions have plagued Mexico’s immigrant detention centers for years.

The circumstances of the fire have disgruntled families across the region who were still waiting for confirmation as to whether their loved ones were dead or alive.

Late Wednesday, hundreds of migrants crossed the border in Ciudad Juarez in protest and turned themselves in to US authorities.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Thursday he had told the Attorney General not to give anyone special consideration and that impunity would not be allowed.

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