MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials said on Thursday that they had arrested five people for their role in the fire in a Ciudad Juárez migrant detention center that killed at least 39 people.
The authorities did not name the suspects who had been apprehended, but said arrest warrants had been obtained for three government migration officials, two private security workers and a migrant accused of starting the blaze. The sixth person charged had not yet been taken into custody.
Officials said on Wednesday they were investigating the fire as a homicide case, saying that some of those responsible, including federal and state agents, had failed to allow the migrants to escape. They did not disclose the charges against those accused in the case.
The fire broke out Monday night, when a group of detained migrants set mattresses ablaze because they feared they were going to be deported, Mexican officials said.
Some migrants told officials in interviews that they had not been given water while they were being held, according to Sara Irene Herrerías Guerra, a top federal human rights prosecutor.
A video that emerged this week appeared to show that when the blaze started, uniformed people at the detention center walked away and left several men behind bars as smoke filled the area where they were being held.
“None of the public servants, nor the private security guards, took any action to open the door for the migrants who were inside where the fire was,” Ms. Herrerías Guerra said.
Beside the 39 deaths, 27 people remain hospitalized. Among the dead were 18 Guatemalans, six Hondurans, seven Salvadorans, seven Venezuelans and one Colombian.
“Our government’s priority is to respect the human rights of all people, regardless of their immigration status,” said Rosa Icela Rodríguez Velázquez, the government’s secretary of security, on Thursday.
The deaths come after weeks of escalating tensions in Ciudad Juárez over migrants there hoping to cross into El Paso, Texas, just across the U.S.-Mexico border. The mayor of Ciudad Juárez had recently vowed a tougher approach to migrants whom he said “could affect the city’s economy and thousands of Juárez and El Paso residents.”
The migrants taken to the center before the fire on Monday were detained after local residents complained about people begging for money on the streets, said Ms. Rodríguez Velázquez.
“There were several complaints from neighbors that a group of migrants” was “harassing people,” she said, adding that the authorities then decided to carry out an operation to apprehend migrants and bring them to the center.
Ms. Rodríguez Velázquez said the government had found irregularities within a company that was providing security at the facility, Grupo de Seguridad Privada CAMSA, and that its contract with the migration authorities would be terminated.
“All investigations are underway to find out what really happened,” said Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in a news conference this week, adding that those responsible would be “punished in accordance with the law.”
The U.S. government said it was willing to help Mexico in its investigation into the cause of the fire.
“We stand ready to provide any assistance,” said Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, at a briefing on Tuesday, adding: “This tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the risks migrants and refugees around the world face.”