CBP Considers Maybe Changing Policies After Second Child Dies in Custody This Month

Photo: AP

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has ordered medical checks on every child it has in custody after the death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy on Christmas Eve, the second death of a child to occur on CBP’s watch just this month.

According to a statement released by CBP on Dec. 25, the day after the boy’s death, Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan directed the agency to follow a series of actions “in light of recent events.” The statement references the death of the 8-year-old boy, but is presumably also invoking the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died of dehydration and exhaustion while in CBP custody earlier this month.

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Most immediately, CBP announced, the border patrol is “conducting secondary medical checks” on all children in CBP custody, with a focus on children younger than 10. CBP is also considering “surge medical assistance from interagency partners,” calling upon the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Health and Human Services for help. CBP also announced that it was reviewing policies with “particular focus” on the custody of children younger than 10, and reviewing relief options for crowded border patrol stations.

The statement also included a timeline of the death of the child, identified by Guatemalan authorities as Felipe Gómez Alonzo, during his time in CBP custody with his father Agustin Gomez and his death.

CBP said it detained Alonzo and his father on Dec. 18, and first noticed Alonzo was coughing and had glossy eyes at 9 a.m. on Dec. 24. It transferred Alonzo and his father to the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, NM, 30 minutes later, where the child was diagnosed with a “common cold” at 12:45 p.m. Less than an hour later, Alonzo was found to have a 103-degree fever but kept for observation, then released just before 3 p.m. with prescriptions for amoxicillin and ibuprofen.

At 7:00 p.m., Alonzo “appeared to be nauseous and vomited,” and his father “declined further medical assistance,” noting that Alonzo felt better. However, at 10:00 p.m. agents returned Alonzo and his father to the hospital after Alonzo “appeared lethargic and nauseous again.” On the way to the hospital, Alonzo “began to vomit and he lost consciousness.” Medical center staff were unable to revive the child, and pronounced him dead at 11:48 p.m.

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In the statement, Commissioner McAleenan called the boy’s death “a tragic loss.”

“On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” McAleenan’s statement continued.

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Alonzo is the the second child to have died in CBP custody this month, but the third child reported to have died following time in immigration custody. Over the summer, an 18-month-old died of viral pneumonitis six weeks after being released from an ICE detention facility with her mother. Another child was also hospitalized with pneumonia this month after being held in freezing conditions at a border processing facility, while BuzzFeed News reported last week that a different child “nearly died” in November when she went into cardiac arrest after being taken into custody. She was resuscitated.

Yeah, perhaps something needs to change.

Update, 12/27/2018, 4:13 p.m. ET: The father of Felipe Gómez Alonzo reportedly told a Guatemalan diplomat that his son wasn’t sick when they were detained a week before his son’s death.

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According to the Associated Press, Oscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, met with Agustin Gomez on Wednesday, when Gomez told Padilla that his son wasn’t sick on Dec. 5, or in the five days that followed their detainment. Gomez also told the consul that he carried his son in his arms when they went to the hospital the second and last time together.

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Samantha Grasso

Splinter Staff Writer, Texan