A Mexican judge Saturday ordered the immigration director of Mexico’s northern border state Chihuahua to stand trial for his failure to manage a deadly fire at an immigration detention centre which caused the death of 40 refugees.
Judge Juan José Chávez ordered Salvador González to be detained in prison pending trial over charges of homicide, injury and unlawful exercise of public service.
The judge stated that there was evidence that González had failed in his duty to protect the refugees in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. Prosecutors said government audits had found “a pattern of irresponsibility and repeated omissions,” arguing that González was remiss in not preventing the fire. Security camera footage showed that once the fire broke out, immigration personnel did not attempt to evacuate the refugees.
According to Mexican authorities, a refugee set fire to the mattresses in his cell where he was being held with 67 other men to protest his possible deportation. Refugees detained in Mexico are often rapidly deported before they have the option to seek asylum and lack access to civil society organisations.
Five other officials of the National Immigration Institute are in custody facing homicide charges, making González the highest ranking official to be held over for trial in the case. Charges are expected to be pressed against the immigration agency’s national official Francisco Garduño, named in the prosecutor’s investigations.
Humanitarian organisations have described the fire as highlighting the increasingly tough and ineffective migration policies put in place by the Biden administration. Limits on the number of people allowed to seek asylum have left cities along Mexico’s northern border overwhelmed by the number of people attempting to cross into the US. This has placed “a significant strain” on Mexico’s protection system, according to Refugees International.