Child Death in Immigration Custody
January 22, 2019
Immigrant advocacy groups are calling for greater scrutiny of the immigration custody procedures after another child died while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New Mexico.
Early Christmas morning, an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy died while in the custody of New Mexico Border Patrol, making him the second child to die in their custody in a month.
Crossing the Border
New Mexico has seen an increase in the number of Guatemalan families attempting to cross the United States–Mexico border through remote and dangerous parts of the New Mexico desert, including the Antelope Wells area.
Immigrants found illegally entering the United States generally are placed into government custody at Customs and Border Patrol holding stations, such as the one in Alamogordo, New Mexico, for less than 72 hours, until they are transferred to larger detention centers.
The Guatemala foreign minister has released information that the deceased boy and his father crossed over in El Paso, Texas and were later transported to the New Mexico Border Patrol holding station in Alamogordo. They were attempting to leave the remote Guatemalan village of Nenton to relocate to Johnson City, Tennessee.
Dying While in U.S. Custody
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not identified the cause of death of the young Guatemalan boy. The boy was taken to a New Mexico hospital the day before his death, after showing “signs of potential illness.”
After receiving a diagnosis of cold and fever, the boy was prescribed amoxicillin and ibuprofen and released, following a 90-minute observation period. He returned to the hospital later that day after experiencing nausea and vomiting and died early the next morning. The boy’s death occurred mere weeks after a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl also died while in the custody of New Mexico Border Patrol agents.
Unlike the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention centers which are larger and have more services, the Border Patrol smaller holding stations are not meant for long detention periods.
With the limited space available at most ICE detention centers, parents and child detainees are generally released quickly after arrival.
Immigrant advocates, including a United Nations spokesman on the human rights of migrants, have criticized the U.S. government’s handling of the situation. They contend the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status violates international human rights laws.
Members of the U.S. Congress also continue to raise their concerns about the care of children while in the custody of Border Patrol. Border Patrol remains under scrutiny for not spotting symptoms of medical distress sooner, and for failing to call for an evacuation by ambulance earlier.
Both the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General and the Guatemalan embassy have been notified of the situation and are expected to conduct their own investigations. It is unclear how the partial government shutdown will affect the resources available for the investigation, although Customs and Border Protection offices and Border Patrol continue to man the border.
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