EL PASO — At least 39 migrants died in a fire Monday night after flames engulfed a migrant facility in Ciudad Juárez, near the Rio Grande.
The National Immigration Institute, Mexico’s immigration regulatory office, said the fire started at about 10 p.m. in one of its facilities in Juárez, near a bridge that connects the Mexican city to El Paso.
There were a total of 68 men in the facility, 29 of whom were injured and transported to four local hospitals in “delicate-serious conditions,” the institute said in a statement.
The men are from Central and South America, and Mexican officials are working with consulates to help identify the victims, the institute said.
During his daily morning news conference, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the fire started when migrants at the detention center learned they were being deported and set fire to mattresses in protest.
In a statement, the immigration institute called for an investigation and said it “expresses its willingness to assist in the investigation, to clarify these unfortunate events. This immigration authority will promptly monitor the evolution of the health status of those who are hospitalized and will provide full support to the families of the victims. The National Institute of Migration strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy.”
In recent months, migrants from Central and South America have arrived at the Texas–Mexico border, many of whom are seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing corrupt governments, violence, and impoverished conditions in their respective countries.
Since March 2020, U.S. Border Patrol agents have turned away many people attempting to enter the country, including migrants seeking asylum, because of the federal emergency health order known as Title 42. Agents have used Title 42 more than 2.6 million times to turn away migrants at the southern border.
The Biden administration plans to end on May 11 the COVID-19 national and public health order, which had allowed the government to invoke Title 42. The national health order, which was imposed by the Trump administration in January 2020 and renewed every ninety days since then, helped Americans receive COVID-19 tests and vaccines against the coronavirus at the government’s expense. The end of the COVID-19 national health order means that Title 42 will also automatically come to a halt.
In January, the Biden administration also created a new immigration plan that would allow thirty thousand migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to enter the country and be able to work legally for up to two years.
In order to qualify, people must apply using a cellphone application called CBP One to make an appointment at a port of entry before they try to enter the U.S. But some migrants have reported that the cellphone application has crashed repeatedly, leaving them stranded in Mexican border towns.
This article originally appeared here in The Texas Tribune, a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy.