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Mexico investigates migration chief over deadly fire in detention center

<i>Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters</i><br/>Mexican authorities and firefighters remove injured migrants
Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
Mexican authorities and firefighters remove injured migrants

By Florencia Trucco, Karina Maciel and Karol Suarez

Mexican authorities are investigating the head of the country’s immigration agency, in the wake of last month’s deadly fire in a migrant detention center that killed at least 38 people and left dozens injured.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed on Wednesday that the Attorney General’s Office is probing Francisco Garduño, commissioner of the National Institute of Migration (INM) in Ciudad Juárez, for the tragedy.

In his morning press conference, Lopez Obrador said that he did not know the scope of the investigation or the specific accusations against Garduño.

“There are several involved and this morning there was discussion that some may be accused of negligence, others of homicide. There is still a need for the Prosecutor’s Office to report more on the investigation and for the judges to be in charge of delivering justice,” the Mexican president said.

“From the beginning we maintained that there would be no impunity for anyone,” he added.

CNN is seeking comment from Garduño and his representatives.

Mexico’s Attorney General earlier announced that criminal proceedings had begun involving the INM chief and another official identified only as Antonio “N.”

Both men are accused of engaging in “alleged criminal conduct, by failing to comply with their obligations to monitor, protect and provide security to people and facilities under their charge, facilitating crimes committed against migrants.”

The statement noted that a similar incident had occurred on March 31, 2020 in Tabasco, where one person died and 14 others were injured, raising concerns of a potential “pattern of conduct in which the security measures that were essential and mandatory in these cases have been omitted by those responsible.”

Four other public servants are also being prosecuted and investigations are still ongoing, the statement concluded.

As CNN previously reported, the deadly March blaze at the INM facility started shortly after 10 p.m. inside an accommodation area, according to the agency. Authorities said it broke out after they picked up and detained a group of migrants from the streets of the border city, which sits across from El Paso, Texas.

Sixty-eight men from Central and South America were being held at the facility, the INM said in a statement, including citizens of Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela.

Surveillance video from inside the center obtained by CNN appeared to show that those detained were behind bars with the gate locked at the time of the fire.

An eyewitness to the blaze, a Venezuelan woman whose husband was trapped inside the building and injured in the fire, spoke to Reuters news agency. Fighting back tears, she blamed Mexican authorities and claimed the doors to the detention center were not opened.

“At 10 p.m., we started to see smoke billowing from everywhere, everybody ran away but they left the men locked in. Everybody was removed from the area, but they left the men locked in. They never opened the door,” 31-year-old Viangly Infante, a Venezuelan national, told the agency.

The INM said at the time that it strongly rejected “the acts that led to this tragedy,” and opened an investigation into the incident.

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