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39 Lives Lost in Tragic Fire at Migrant Center Near US-Mexico Border

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At least 39 people have been killed in a fire at a Mexican immigration detention center near the US border, a government agency said Tuesday, in one of the deadliest incidents ever at an immigration prison in the country.

Hours after the fire started late Monday, rows of bodies lay under shiny silver sheets outside the facility in Ciudad Juarez, which is across from El Paso, Texas, and a major transit point for immigrants. Ambulances, firefighters and vans from the morgue swarmed the scene.

39 people have died and 29 others are in “critical and serious” condition, according to the National Institute of Migration. The agency said there were 68 men from Central and South America being held in the facility at the time the fire broke out.

It was the deadliest incident inside the Mexican immigration facility in recent memory. Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire and the government’s National Human Rights Commission has been called in to assist the migrants.

Tensions between authorities and migrants appear to have heightened in recent weeks in Ciudad Juarez, as shelters fill with people awaiting opportunities to cross into the United States or who have claimed asylum there and await the process.

More than 30 migrant shelters and other organizations published an open letter on March 9 complaining about the criminalization of immigrants and asylum seekers in the city.

She accused the authorities of abusing and using excessive force in detaining immigrants, and complained that municipal police were questioning people on the street about their immigration status without reason.

The high level of frustration in Ciudad Juarez was evident earlier this month when hundreds of Venezuelan immigrants, based on false rumors that the United States would allow them into the country, tried to make their way across an international bridge into El Paso. American authorities blocked their attempts.

On Tuesday, the national migration agency said it “strongly rejects the actions that led to this tragedy,” without any further explanation as to what the actions might have been.

In recent years, as Mexico has stepped up its efforts to stem the flow of immigration to the US border under pressure from the US government, the agency has experienced overcrowding in its facilities. The country’s immigration prisons have witnessed protests and riots from time to time.

Most Venezuelan immigrants rioted inside an immigration center in Tijuana in October that had to be brought under control by police forces and the National Guard.

In November, dozens of migrants rioted at Mexico’s largest detention center in the southern city of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala. No one died in either incident.

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