At least 40 people are dead and 29 injured after a fire broke out before dawn Tuesday at a Mexican immigration detention facility along the U.S. border.
The fire broke out late Monday at a center run by the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Photos from the scene showed the parking lot of the facility lined with several bodies covered with blankets.
At least 68 men from Central and South America were being housed at the facility at Ciudad Juarez, which is a major crossing area for migrants or asylum-seekers wishing to enter the United States.
The dead and injured were from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, with Guatemalans being the largest contingent, according to a statement from the Mexican attorney general's office.
Guatemala Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro said 28 of the dead were Guatemalan citizens.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said once migrants heard they were going to be deported from Mexico, they started a fire inside the facility in protest.
'At the door of the shelter, they put mattresses and set them on fire, and they did not imagine that this was going to cause a terrible misfortune,' Lopez Obrador said. He added that the director of the country's immigration agency was on the scene.
An image taken from video shows members of the Mexican Army at the site of a fire at an immigration detention facility in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 28, 2023. (Cesar Contreras/VOA Spanish)
U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents the district at the southern border closest to the shelter, tweeted Tuesday morning that 'More than 38 souls were lost in Juarez - people who were waiting and hoping for a shot at a better life. This refugee crisis has put vulnerable people at great risk every step of the way."
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in a statement he has expressed concern about "the potential adverse impact on [Ciudad] Juarez, our Sister City, when our migration policies place the burden on their community."
'A community that has fewer resources than we have on the U.S. side. As we saw three weeks ago, the desperation felt by those seeking better lives manifested into a surge at the port of entry ... Our bi-nationality should be recognized and considered during policy development as the success and prosperity of one city is interwoven with the other,' his statement said.
In recent weeks, tensions between law enforcement authorities and migrants have been running high in Ciudad Juarez. Shelters were full of those waiting for a chance to enter the United States or cross into the country to request asylum.
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U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement that Mexicans "are together" with migrants in Ciudad Juarez during this moment of pain.
"It is a reminder to the governments of the region of the importance in fixing a broken migration system and the risks of irregular migration," he wrote.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was deeply saddened by the migrant deaths in Ciudad Juarez. Dujarric said Guterres conveyed condolences to the families.
"The secretary-general calls for a thorough investigation into this tragic event. Of course, we all reiterate our commitment to work with the authorities of countries where mixed movements of people occur to establish safer, more regulated, and more organized migration routes as we have been saying quite often from here."