MEXICO CITY – A judge ordered the head of Mexico’s immigration agency to stand trial on charges that he failed in his responsibility to protect those in his custody when 40 migrants died in a fire at a border detention center in March.
Francisco Garduño will remain free during the proceedings and will continue in his job. His lawyer, Rodolfo Pérez, told The Associated Press that they will try to reach an agreement for reparations to the victims in order to avoid a trial.
“I will keep working … until ordered otherwise”, Garduño told media late Sunday as he left the court in the border town of Ciudad Juárez.
Federal prosecutors said that Garduño was responsible for the safety of the country’s immigration facilities and that there was evidence that he knew that Ciudad Juárez’s detention center lacked basic safety measures but he did nothing to change it.
The judge denied the prosecutors’ request that Garduño be removed from his position. He will have to present himself to the court every two weeks.
Garduño defense team said that a private firm was responsible for security at the facility, not government officials.
A migrant allegedly started a fire inside the Ciudad Juarez detention center on March 27. Security cameras inside the facility showed smoke quickly filling the cell holding 68 male migrants, but no one with keys attempted to rescue them. In addition to the 40 killed, more than two dozen were injured in the fire.
Garduño hasn't stepped down from his post, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has voiced his support. The president appointed Garduño to run the agency in 2019 while under pressure from then U.S. President Donald Trump to take a more aggressive stance against migrants crossing Mexico. Garduño had previously been in charge of Mexico’s prisons.
Seven other immigration officials are standing trial, including one who faces the same charges as Garduño. The other six, including a retired military official who was the immigration agency’s delegate in the state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juárez is located, were charged with homicide and causing injury by omission.