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Video shows Mexican guards walking away as deadly immigration detention facility fire rages

The video, first obtained by a human rights organization with workers stationed in Juarez and shared with Texas Public radio, appears to show guards at the detention facility walking away as the fire raged.
Surveillance footage from inside an immigration detention facility in Ciudad Juárez.

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Surveillance footage from inside an immigration detention facility in Ciudad Juárez surfaced on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after a deadly fire erupted and killed 38 people trapped inside.

Twenty-eight people were injured and are in “delicate, serious condition,” according to Mexico’s National Immigration Institute. Mexican officials had originally reported 40 deaths, but acknowledged late Tuesday evening that some men may have been counted twice.

The video, shared with Texas Public Radio by a human rights worker who asked to remain anonymous due to their work with the Mexican government, appeared to show guards at the detention facility walking away as the fire raged.

It's not clear what happened before or after the video was taken.

TPR has not independently confirmed the veracity of the video but Mexico’s Interior Secretary Adán Augusto López confirmed the video’s authenticity in an interview with local journalist Joaquín López Doriga.

The immigrants were in the custody of the Mexican government.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that migrants from Central America and Venezuela were in the detention center and that they were protesting the decision to deport them. He claimed that they "set fire" to the mattresses. He called it a "terrible accident."

López Obrador implied that the migrants blocked themselves in with the mattresses. But TPR’s review of the surveillance footage suggests that more could have been done by the facility’s personnel to save the migrants’ lives. The Mexican government has not commented on the video.

The Institute for Women in Migration condemned the Mexican government for its response to the fire.

"We, the defenders of the rights of women in migration and their families, condemn the events that took place on the night of March 27 in Ciudad Juárez, where immigration detention sentenced migrants to die...trapped in the middle of a fire without — until now — clarification about the causes that started the fire," read the statement.

Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said in atweet that the “tragic fire at a migrant detention center in Mexico is the result of repressive policies that lock up migrants and asylum seekers, often in harsh and unsafe conditions.”

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Border and Immigration News Desk, including the Catena Foundation and Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

The Mexican city has been dealing with an influx of migrants from South and Central America. Juárez is often the last stop for Latin American migrants before trying to seek asylum in the U.S. But policies kept in place by the Biden administration have left thousands stranded in Mexico.

They include the continuation of a public health policy known as Title 42, which rapidly expels asylum seekers and returns them to Mexico and sometimes other countries.

Earlier this month, hundreds of migrants from Venezuela rushed to the center of the downtown bridge in Juárez and demanded entry into the U.S. The migrants were denied entry and eventually returned to Juárez, but the incident highlighted the rising tension between migrants and Mexican authorities.

The Biden administration rolled out a new feature in its CBP ONE app that allows migrants to seek asylum virtually. However, there have been technical problems with the app, and widespread confusion on how to use it.

Large numbers of migrants continue to wait in Mexico to seek asylum.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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