Mexican immigration official arraigned on detention fire charges

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

The head of Mexico’s immigration service has been taken to court on charges of failing to ensure security in the country’s migrant detention centers following a fire last month that killed 40 migrants and asylum seekers.

Francisco Garduno, leader of the Mexican Immigration Institute, faced a hearing Tuesday, where prosecutors presented evidence showing he had been forced to close 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 agency.

The deadly blaze has brought increased attention to the conditions migrants and asylum seekers often experience in countries like Mexico, where critics say they are often abused and denied basic rights.

The March 27 fire drew international attention after a video circulated showing guards making no effort to free a group of 68 men trapped in a cell at a Ciudad Juarez detention center.

Prosecutors have said private guards asked officials for permission to release the detained men when the fire started, but were told not to.

In addition to the 40 deaths, more than two dozen people were injured in the blaze. Many came from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela. Mexican authorities have said the migrants and asylum seekers started the fire to protest their conditions and deportation.

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

In April, a Mexican judge ordered the arrest of three immigration officials, a private guard and a Venezuelan migrant in connection with the Juarez fire.

The most senior official on trial so far is the deputy of the immigration service in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, retired Navy Vice Admiral Salvador Gonzalez. He was charged with murder and causing negligent injury.

Garduno, who had previously overseen Mexico’s prison system, was appointed to head the country’s immigration office in 2019, as the country came under pressure from the United States to crack down on migrants and asylum seekers traveling north.

Some proponents point to recent changes in immigration law — such as the U.S. Title 42 cross-border deportation policy and other deterrents — that have exacerbated the conditions that led to the blaze.

“The countries of the region, led by the United States, have established shared migration policies that are increasingly inhumane, making it nearly impossible to access the right to seek asylum and forcing people to take more dangerous routes that putting them in even more vulnerable situations. the human rights organization Amnesty International said in a rack follow the fire.