Editor's note: This story comes from the El Paso Times as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a group of newsrooms -- including ABC-7, which explores issues with a bi-national perspective. Story by Gabriela Minjarez, La Verdad
CIUDAD JUAREZ – Jeison Daniel Catarí Rivas traveled more than 3,000 miles to reach Ciudad Juárez with the intention of crossing into the United States in search of the American dream.
Instead, he was detained during a sweep of migrants on the streets of Juarez on Monday, March 27, and now, the 28-year-old Venezuelan is accused of starting the fire inside a holding cell inside the National Institute of Migration that claimed the lives of 39 migrants and injured dozens more.
Catari Rivas had been admitted to a general hospital run by the Mexican Institute of Social Security, where he was listed as being in delicate condition after being injured in the fire. He was arrested at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, March 30 by federal police after being released from the hospital, according to records from the National Detention Registry. He is charged with intentional homicide, injuries to others and damage to property.
Although federal authorities have not released the names of any of those allegedly responsible, a court on Thursday issued arrest orders for six people in relation to the fire at the facility, federal prosecutor Sara Irene Herrerías said. She said that five of the six had already been arrested and face charges of homicide and causing injuries. Among them are officials from the National Immigration Institute and private security guards contracted by the agency.
The news of Catari Rivas’ arrest surprised his family in different South American countries, who until Thursday had not even been informed about his state of health.
In a telephone interview with La Verdad, his sister, Daniela Catarí, described him as a calm person, who has never had legal problems and, therefore, has no criminal record in any of the countries where he has lived.
"That is why I am surprised to learn that they blame him for the fire, that he started it. I don't know what could have led him to that. I can describe him as a peaceful person who likes to get ahead, excel, lives life very calmly," said the 30-year-old woman who migrated from Venezuela to Peru four years ago and now lives in Chile.
Daniela Catari said her brother was a carpenter who left Venezuela with his family due to the country’s poor economic conditions. She said Catari Rivas was living in Peru with his wife and stepchildren before deciding to migrate to the United States with some friends to find a better quality of life for his family.
"There they got the idea of going to the United States looking for the famous American dream, but the only thing they have achieved is misfortune after misfortune," Daniela Catari said.
She said no authorities from the Mexican government or consulate have contacted her to inform her about her brother's condition, adding that they have not had any luck reaching government agencies or hospitals in Juárez.
"We don't know anything, we want to know who accuses him that he was directly responsible for the fire, what evidence they have... he is a person, that I can say, he is calm, that's why I am surprised to find out that they say that he is one of the people who started the fire It surprised me," she said.
Daniela Catari said she spotted her brother in a video from inside the detention cell shot that appeared on news stations in Venezuela.
Catari Rivas was detained alongside his friend, Óscar José Regalado Silva, who died in the fire, according to friends interviewed by La Verdad. They were among a group of Venezuelans who were cleaning car windows at street intersections to earn some money. Some in the group split up, wanting to explore different areas where they might be able to cross into the United States, according to several migrants interviewed.
“When they were at the ‘Equis’, Óscar and Jeison were detained by immigration officials,” one migrant told La Verdad. “They sent us messages to tell us what had happened and we believed them, but they sent us a photo when they were put in the (immigration) van. We never imagined that it would be Oscar's last.”
A complaint filed with federal investigators from the attorney general’s office on Wednesday accused the state's top immigration official of knowing about the fire but ordering that the migrants not be released, the Associated Press reported.
The complaint said the Chihuahua state delegate for the National Immigration Institute “gave the order by way of a phone call that under no circumstances should the migrants ‘housed’ inside the place where the fire started be released,” according to the AP..
Federal prosecutors in a press conference on Wednesday said they had not received any testimony about a phone call ordering that the migrants not be released when the fire started.
El Paso Matters assistant editor Cindy Ramirez contributed to this report.