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Mexican president blames others for migrant tragedy

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president vowed on Friday to visit hospitals treating injured migrants in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, where 39 men died in a fire at an immigration detention center late Monday.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was personally devastated by Monday’s tragedy. But it seems he will bring little news on immigration policy from his visit to Ciudad Juarez on Friday across from El Paso, Texas.

“I admit it hurt me a lot, it hurt me,” Lopez Obrador said before the trip. “It tore my soul apart.” The president said the Ciudad Juarez fire was the second most poignant moment of his tenure, surpassed only by a 2019 pipeline fire in the central Mexican city of Tlahuelilpan that killed about 135 people.

However, it did not cost him much politically.

Many residents of Mexican border towns mourned the deaths of the migrants in the smoky mattress fire set by some migrants to protest alleged deportation attempts. But in Ciudad Juarez, many residents were fed up with migrants, mostly from Central America and Venezuela, begging for loose change on street corners and blocking border bridges.

Eager to win favor with the United States, López Obrador has made life difficult for migrants who want to cross Mexico to reach the US border. He has ordered tens of thousands of Army troops and National Guard officers to detain migrants and allowed the United States to deport migrants from Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua and Cuba to Mexico.

But the US has done little to help Mexico house or integrate the returned migrants.

López Obrador lashed out Friday, saying the United States should spend more on economic development in Latin America to prevent migrants from leaving their homes, rather than sending military aid to Ukraine. He suggested that the US should make direct cash payments to families in the region.

“How can you compare what the US government is sending to Central America with the $30.35 billion it is spending on buying arms for Ukraine?” said Lopez Obrador.

This impasse — with federal governments in Mexico and the United States reluctant to address the migration issue — often leaves the situation in the hands of local leaders, many of whom see the migrants as a nuisance.

López Obrador said Friday he would set up a commission to ensure migrants’ human rights are protected. He said the commission will be chaired by longtime migrant activist and Roman Catholic priest Rev. Alejandro Sollinde. However, it was unclear what powers the commission would have.

Meanwhile, López Obrador said: “I will essentially focus on the medical side. What’s important to me is treating the injured.” Mexico has turned down a US offer to help treat the injured, most of whom suffered smoke inhalation, saying they were too ill to move .

Federal Public Safety Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez said Thursday that 27 migrants remained hospitalized, all in serious or critical condition. Another migrant has been released, she said.

The alleged arsonist was only slightly injured and has already been released from the hospital, presumably in custody.

This migrant faces charges of manslaughter and causing injuries along with three officers from the National Immigration Institute and two private security guards from the detention center.

Video from a surveillance camera at the Ciudad Juarez facility showed guards walking away when the fire broke out in the cell where migrants were being held, making no attempt to release them. It was not clear if these guards had keys to the cell doors.

But there have been complaints for years about poor conditions and human rights abuses in migrant detention centers in Mexico, including inadequate ventilation, food and water, and overflowing toilets.

Additionally, there is mounting evidence of corruption throughout the Mexican immigration system, where everyone from lawyers and immigration officials to guards have accepted bribes to free migrants from detention.

To date, little has been done to address these concerns.

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