Two Immigrant Children Have Died in U.S. Custody in the Last Week

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A 16-year-old Guatemalan child has died while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, the agency said in a statement on Monday. The child, who was not identified in the statement, is the fifth minor to die while in U.S. immigration custody in six months, and the second in just the past week. All five children were Guatemalan.

According to CBP, the child, whose name was not publicly released, was detained in Texas and processed by Border Patrol on May 13 after entering the country unaccompanied. One week later, he was found unresponsive during a morning welfare check. The cause of death was not known at the time of the statement.

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Federal law requires that unaccompanied minors be transferred from CBP custody to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which arranges for children to live with a sponsor or be housed in a child detention center. CBP alleged that the late child was “due for placement” with ORR.

The 16 year old’s death comes less than a week after a two-year-old child died in Border Patrol custody. The child entered the U.S. with his mother and had been hospitalized for more than a month prior to his death. He appeared to have suffered from pneumonia, according to Guatemalan General Consul Tekandi Paniagua. And two weeks before that, another 16 year old died while in ORR custody.

In December, then-CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, currently the DHS secretary, ordered that all children in immigration custody undergo expanded medical screenings after two children died that month. Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died of dehydration while in CBP custody with her father. Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, died while in CBP custody with his father, who reportedly told a Guatemalan diplomat that his son hadn’t been sick before they were detained.

Prior to the deaths of these children within immigration custody, last year an 18-month-old girl died of viral pneumonitis six weeks after being released from ICE custody with her mother, Yazmin Juárez. Juárez is currently suing the city of Eloy, AZ, for “wrongful and preventable death” as well as the U.S. government.

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“CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody,” John Sanders, acting commissioner of CBP, said in the statement.

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Samantha Grasso

Splinter Staff Writer, Texan