Deaths of 2 chil­dren raise doubts about US bor­der agency

The Tribune (SLO) - - News -

The deaths of two mi­grant chil­dren in just over two weeks raised strong new doubts Wed­nes­day about the abil­ity of U.S. bor­der au­thor­i­ties to care for the thou­sands of mi­nors ar­riv­ing as part of a surge of fam­i­lies try­ing to en­ter the coun­try.

An 8-year-old boy iden­ti­fied by Gu­atemalan of­fi­cials as Felipe Alonzo Gomez died in U.S. cus­tody at a New Mex­ico hos­pi­tal on Christ­mas Eve after suf­fer­ing a cough, vom­it­ing and fever, au­thor­i­ties said. The cause is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as is the Dec. 8 death of an­other Gu­atemalan child, 7-yearold Jake­lin Caal.

“There is a real fail­ure here that we all need to reckon with,” said in­com­ing Rep. Veron­ica Es­co­bar, a Demo­crat elected last month to rep­re­sent El Paso in Congress. “We need to know how many other Jake­lins and Felipes there have been.”

The U.S. gov­ern­ment’s sys­tem for de­tain­ing mi­grants cross­ing the bor­der is se­verely over­taxed. Au­thor­i­ties would not say how many chil­dren U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion is now hold­ing. But they are see­ing a sharp rise in fam­i­lies with chil­dren.

In the wake of the two deaths, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen asked the Coast Guard to study CBP’s med­i­cal pro­grams and an­nounced that all chil­dren who en­ter the agency’s cus­tody will be given “more thor­ough” as­sess­ments.

Also, bor­der au­thor­i­ties said that they con­ducted health checks in re­ac­tion to Felipe’s death on nearly all chil­dren in their cus­tody. They did not dis­close the re­sults.

Nielsen blamed “a sys­tem that pre­vents par­ents who bring their chil­dren on a dan­ger­ous il­le­gal jour­ney from fac­ing con­se­quences for their ac­tions.” The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tends it must de­tain more peo­ple to dis­cour­age other Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies from try­ing to en­ter the coun­try.

Felipe had been de­tained by U.S. bor­der au­thor­i­ties for a week and moved be­tween fa­cil­i­ties with his fa­ther, of­fi­cials said. The last place the boy was held – after the first of two vis­its to the hos­pi­tal on the day he died – was a high­way check­point in New Mex­ico.

Felipe’s fa­ther, Agustin Gomez, did not see any signs of ill­ness from his son un­til Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to Gu­atemalan con­sul Os­car Padilla, who spoke to Gomez on Wed­nes­day. Felipe and his fa­ther had left Gu­atemala on Dec. 14 and were de­tained at the U.S-Mex­ico bor­der four days later.

By its own reg­u­la­tions, CBP is sup­posed to de­tain peo­ple for no more than 72 hours be­fore turn­ing them over to other gov­ern­ment agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for long-term de­ten­tion. CBP fa­cil­i­ties are typ­i­cally spar­tan, with food, wa­ter and blan­kets but of­ten no med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, teach­ers or some of the other re­sources longer-term de­ten­tion cen­ters of­fer.

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