A fire that broke out at a Mexican immigration detention center near the U.S. southern border on Monday night has killed at least 38 people and injured dozens more, according to Mexican government authorities.
Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) confirmed the fire broke out at around 10:00 p.m. local time on Monday night at a detention center in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, located across the border from El Paso, Texas.
INM initially reported 39 people were killed, but revised that number down to 38 after confirming information with area hospitals, Reuters reported. INM also revised down the number of injured individuals from 29 to 28.
In translated remarks, INM said it “strongly denies the acts that led to this tragedy,” but did not elaborate further on the matter at the time.
In a Tuesday morning press conference, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said investigators believe migrants inside the facility started the blaze, setting fire to their mattresses in an apparent protest after learning they would be deported.
“They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune,” López Obrador said during a press conference on Tuesday morning.
The Mexican authorities are still working to identify the deceased migrants. Karla Samayoa, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry, said that Mexican authorities had informed them that more than two dozen of the migrants who died appeared to be from the country.
The migration authorities said they are also continuing to monitor the health status of those migrants who were injured in the fire and provide support to the families of the victims.
Tensions Running High Over Migrant Crossings
Tensions between authorities and migrants had reportedly been running high in Ciudad Juarez in the weeks leading up to this incident. Shelters have been full of people waiting for opportunities to cross into the U.S. or who have requested asylum there and are waiting out the process.
Tensions grew further in Ciudad Juarez when hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants tried to force their way across one of the international bridges into El Paso earlier this month. Many of those migrants were acting on false rumors that the United States would allow them to enter the country once they crossed over. U.S. border authorities blocked these crossing attempts.
More than 30 migrant shelters and other advocacy organizations published an open letter on March 9 that complained about the criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers in the city. It accused authorities of abuse and using excessive force in rounding up migrants, complaining that municipal police were questioning people in the street about their immigration status without cause.
Migrants previously rioted inside an immigration facility in Tijuana in October and inside another facility in Tapachula near the border with Guatemala in November. No one died in either incident.
Migrants also set fires to mattresses and bedding inside an immigration facility in Tijuana, Mexico in April of 2019. No one died in that incident, but 51 people had to be evacuated and six people—including two children 2 and 4 years old—had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.