A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died in US custody in the Rio Grande Valley Sector on Monday morning, making the fifth death of an immigrant minor at the southern border since December.
U.S. Customs and Border Protections said in an official statement, “A 16-year-old Guatemalan national passed away this morning at the Weslaco Station in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. According to initial reports, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended and processed the juvenile for illegal entry May 13 near Hidalgo, Texas. He was transferred from the Rio Grande Valley Sector’s Central Processing Center to the Weslaco Border Patrol Station Sunday and due for placement with Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. He was found un-responsive this morning during a welfare check.”
They say the cause of death is “not known at this time” and they are not releasing the identity at this time.
No children had died in border patrol custody in the previous 10 years until December 2018. Five children have died in the last 6 months under Trump's family separation policy. https://t.co/DQPO0rOyGA pic.twitter.com/rCPYcruNBu
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) May 20, 2019
CBP has alerted the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, the Guatemalan government and Congress.
A record number of migrants are seeking asylum in the U.S. and braving horrific conditions to do so, including when they are taken into U.S. custody, sleeping on the ground and rigging their own protection from the sun in the McAllen station, which covers a 53-mile section of the Rio Grande.
Reuters photos taken on Wednesday show adults and children outside the U.S. Border Patrol station for migrants in McAllen, Texas, sleeping on the ground and rigging up makeshift awnings with reflective blankets to shelter from the sun.
The photos, taken from a helicopter, also show people sleeping in a shaded area of a parking lot and crowded around a military tent.
The ground temperature was about 89 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) when the pictures were taken around midday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the CBP website, McAllen Station is responsible for patrolling a 53-mile (85 km) section of the Rio Grande that runs along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal died in early December of a bacterial infection called streptococcal sepsis, two days after she and her father were taken into CBP custody by U.S. border agents in a remote part of New Mexico.
Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died in CBP custody of flu complicated by sepsis on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The boy was diagnosed with a common cold and fever, and eventually released by staff at Gerald Champion Regional Medical Centre in Alamogordo, New Mexico. But later that evening, the boy began vomiting and was transferred back to the hospital. He died the next day.
After the second death, border officials announced that a change in policy so that it would conduct secondary medical checks on all children in its custody, with a focus of those under 10.
A 16-year-old boy died in a children’s hospital of a brain infection in Corpus Christi, Texas after being detained for less than two weeks in a contracted child shelter.
Days ago, a two-year old Guatemalan toddler died of pneumonia, about a month after his family were apprehended on April 3rd in the Rio Grande area.
The dangerous trip these migrants take to the U.S. is not Trump’s fault.
What is Trump’s fault is the way his administration has chosen to punish migrants, separate families, and use tactics meant to punish people who are not criminals, many of whom are fleeing such life-threatening poverty and or violence at home that they are willing to risk their own lives to come here.
It is Trump’s fault that his immigration policies drive vulnerable asylum seekers to avoid official points of entry that are not well-equipped to care for children.
Julie Linton, co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, said during a conference call that she was concerned about sick children potentially being housed in current Border Patrol facilities.
“There certainly need to be conditions that do not include lying on a mat with a Mylar blanket on a floor that is cold, and cage-like fencing that extends to the ceiling,” she said on a conference call with reporters on Monday. “We absolutely need pediatric health experts at the border.”
The Obama administration focused our limited resources on deporting criminals. The Trump administration has made caging babies and separating families their signature immigration policies, which is to say deliberate cruelty as a deterrent. Of course, that is not working. Cruelty, it turns out, is as deadly as it is ineffective.
Note: This story is developing and additions are being made to this article as we become aware of new information and context.
Additional reporting by Reuters’ Yeganeh Torbati
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.