Fire at Mexican Immigration Detention Center Kills 39, Injures 29

Image via Associated Press by Christian Chavez

Image via Associated Press by Christian Chavez

Lucy Rosst, Staff Writer


A fire broke out at a migrant detention center on the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving 39 dead and another 29 in serious condition. The fire occurred overnight on March 27th in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a location where many immigrants end up in their pursuit of entering the U.S. In a statement from the Mexican government, they said that there were Guatemalans, Hondurians,  Venezuelans,  Salvadorans, as well as an Ecuadorian and a Colombian who were injured or killed in the fire. 

Image via Associated Press by Christian Chavez


The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said that the prisoners put mattresses in front of the doors of the detention center and set it on fire as a protest. Obrador said that the migrants planned the fire “”after, we think, they found out they’d be deported”. There is an ongoing investigation into the motives and reasoning of the migrants, but one can assume that the people who started the fire were scared or angered by the prospect of deportation to their countries of origin, which led to the fire as a protest. Obrador said that the migrants “did not imagine that [the fire] was going to cause this terrible accident.” Authorities launched an investigation into the individuals who caused the fire, leading to the issuing of 6 arrest warrants, which have resulted in 5 arrests so far. 


A video, which was authenticated by a Mexican government official, shows guards walking by the cell as the fire was active. The guards did not try to help the prisoners to safety, leaving them trapped in the cell with the fire. According to a Venezuelan migrant named Viangly Infante in an interview with Reuters, once the fire started all the other migrants and personnel were evacuated from the building, but, “They left the men locked in. They never opened the door.” A few days after the fire, Jorge Vázquez Campbell, a lawyer representing anonymous clients who he says are involved in the event, filed a complaint against Salvador González Guerrero. The complaint alleges that Guerrero, the state of Chihuahua’s delegate to the National Immigration Institute, gave orders over the phone that the migrants should not be released during the fire. Authorities have launched an investigation into actions committed by the detention center officials concerning the fire.


Amnesty International, a human rights organization, released an article condemning the actions of the guards, as well as the treatment of the migrants in the detention center. The organization’s Director of the Americas commented that, “These devastating events lay bare a truly inhumane system of immigration enforcement. How is it possible that the Mexican authorities left human beings locked up with no way to escape the fire?”


While this event was undoubtedly tragic, hopefully it can serve as a call to action to improve the conditions and regulations in migrant detention facilities. Only time will tell what steps governments will take to prevent an event like this in the future, and what long term effects this will have on the world of immigration policy.