Tuesday - Jul 23, 2019

US border agency orders medical checks on children in custody after deaths

by Khushbu Shah and agencies

CBP said it needs help of other agencies to provide healthcare after a second immigrant child died in its custody this month,

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have ordered medical checks on every child in its custody after an eight-year-old boy from Guatemala died, marking the second death of an immigrant child in the agency’s care this month.

The death came during an ongoing dispute over border security and with a partial government shutdown under way over Donald Trump’s request for border wall funding .

The boy, identified in a statement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, had been in CBP’s custody with his father, Agustín Gómez, since 18 December. CBP said in a statement late on Tuesday that an agent first noticed the boy had a cough and “glossy eyes” at about 9 a.m. on Monday.

He was eventually hospitalized twice and died just before midnight, the agency said. Reports had previously stated the child died on Christmas Day.

Jakelin Caal, a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl, died on 8 December, less than two days after being apprehended by border agents. The body of the girl was returned to her family’s remote village on Monday for burial.

The UN’s special rapporteur, who acts as a global watchdog for the treatment of migrants, told the Guardian that he would demand a special inquiry into Jakelin’s death.

Speaking on Wednesday, the head of the CBP said the deaths were “an extraordinarily rare occurrence” that were “devastating” to the agency.

The CBP commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, told CBS’s This Morning show that before this month, it had been more than a decade since a child died in the agency’s care.

In its statement, the CBP said it needs the help of other government agencies to provide healthcare. The agency “is considering options for surge medical assistance” from the coast guard and may request help from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).

A CBP spokesman could not immediately answer how many children are currently in the agency’s custody, but McAleenan said the agency is seeing more children than ever. With border crossings surging, CBP processes thousands of children – both alone and with their parents – every month.

Immigration advocates and human rights groups sharply criticized CBP in the wake of Felipe’s death.

The White House referred questions about the latest case to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP’s parent agency. CBP officers and the border patrol remain on the job despite the shutdown.

Felipe was taken with his father to a hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was diagnosed with a common cold, according to a timeline released by the agency.

The boy was released just before 3pm, about 90 minutes after he had been found to have a fever of 103F (39.4C), CBP said. He was prescribed amoxicillin and ibuprofen, and taken with his father to a holding facility at a highway checkpoint.

At about 7pm, agents helped clean up the boy’s vomit. CBP said the father “declined further medical assistance” then.

The agency said its officers repeatedly conducted welfare checks on Felipe and his father, and that agents decided to take the boy back to the hospital at about 10pm because the boy “appeared lethargic and nauseous again”. He died at 11.48pm on Monday, the agency said.

The hospital, the Gerald Champion regional medical center, declined to comment, citing privacy regulations.

Felipe and his father were detained by CBP for about a week, an unusually long time that the agency did not fully explain on Tuesday.

CBP typically detains immigrants for no more than a few days when they cross the border before either releasing them or turning them over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) for longer-term detention.

CBP said it apprehended Felipe and his father on 18 December about three miles (5km) away from an official port of entry, the Paso del Norte bridge connecting El Paso and Juárez, Mexico. They were held at a processing center for almost two days then taken to the El Paso border patrol station on Thursday.

CBP said it moved them to Alamogordo at about 1am on Sunday “because of capacity levels at the El Paso station”. Alamogordo is about 90 miles (145km) from El Paso.

Óscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, said he was told by the boy’s father in a telephone interview that the two had been traveling from their home in Nentón, a village about 280 miles (450km) from Guatemala City. They were planning to go to Johnson City, Tennessee.

CBP promised “an independent and thorough review of the circumstances”, and the Guatemalan foreign ministry called for an investigation “in accordance with due process”.

(Associated Press contributed to this report).