The top Mexican immigration official in the state where a detention center fire killed at least 39 migrants allegedly was informed of the fire by phone and ordered that the migrants not be released, according to a complaint filed by a lawyer representing people involved in the tragedy.
The official, retired Navy Rear Admiral Salvador González Guerrero, is the Chihuahua state delegate for the National Immigration Institute, Mexico’s immigration agency. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the allegations nor to a request to speak with González.
A video from a security camera inside the Ciudad Juarez facility showed guards walking away when the fire started late Monday inside the cell holding the migrants, and not making any attempt to release them.
The complaint, which was shared with the AP, was filed Wednesday with federal investigators from the Attorney General’s Office by lawyer Jorge Vázquez Campbell. Campbell said he would not reveal his clients identities for their protection, beyond saying they were connected to the case.
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The complaint said that González “gave the order by way of a phone call that under no circumstances should the migrants ‘housed’ inside the place where the fire started be released.”
The formal allegation came as Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that eight suspects who worked at the facility were under investigation, as well as one migrant who allegedly started the fire.
Sara Irene Herrerías, the prosecutor leading the investigation, said that González was not one of the eight officials called in to give statements about the incident.
Five of the officials being investigated were contracted security guards from a private firm. The remaining three include two officials from the National Immigration Institute and a Chihuahua state immigration official.
The government said it was preparing to request four arrest orders related to the case.
Campbell said his clients told him that one of the detained migrants asked a guard for a cigarette and a lighter and then five migrants who had been detained that day began to protest.
“The officials made fun of them, they got irritated and two of them (migrants) set a mattress on fire,” Campbell said.
That was the moment, Campbell said, that immigration agents at the facility notified González of the fire and he “told them not to do anything and under no circumstances should they let them leave.”
The circumstances of the fire have angered families across the region who were still awaiting confirmation of whether their loved ones were dead or alive.
Late Wednesday, hundreds of migrants walked across the border in Ciudad Juarez in protest and turned themselves over to U.S. authorities.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Thursday that he had told the Attorney General to not give anyone special consideration and that impunity would not be permitted.