Mexican immigration official arraigned on detention fire charges

Prosecutors say a ‘pattern’ of irresponsibility and corruption led to the detention-centre fire that killed 40 people.

The leader of Mexico’s immigration agency has been arraigned in court on charges of failing to ensure safety inside the country’s migrant detention centres, following a fire last month that killed 40 migrants and asylum seekers.

Francisco Garduno, leader of the Mexican Immigration Institute, faced a court hearing on Tuesday, where prosecutors presented evidence showing he should have closed facilities that did not meet safety requirements.

Prosecutors have previously noted that the case indicated a “pattern of irresponsibility” on the part of the immigration institute.

The deadly fire has brought heightened scrutiny to the conditions that migrants and asylum seekers often experience in countries such as Mexico, where critics say they are frequently subjected to abuse and denied basic rights.

The fire on March 27 caught international attention after a video circulated, showing guards making no effort to free a group of 68 men locked in a cell at a Ciudad Juarez detention centre.

Prosecutors have said that private security guards 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 were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela. Mexican authorities have said the migrants and asylum seekers caused the fire to protest their conditions and deportation.

Several migrants in the shelter also said they were told they could secure their release by paying $1,000, according to prosecutors who suggested that corruption and exploitation had been common prior to the fire.

In April, a Mexican judge ordered the arrest of three immigration officials, a private security guard and a Venezuelan migrant in connection to 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 was charged with homicide and causing injury by omission.

Garduno, who had previously overseen 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 — like 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,” the rights group Amnesty International said in a statement following the fire.

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