Guatemalan boy dies in US immigration custody; 8-year-old becomes second child to die at border in December

Houston: An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in government custody in New Mexico early Tuesday, US immigration authorities said, marking the second death of an immigrant child in detention this month.

The death came during an ongoing dispute over border security and with a partial government shutdown underway over President Donald Trump's request for border wall funding.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the boy — identified by the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix as Felipe Gómez Alonzo — had shown "signs of potential illness" on Monday and was taken with his father to a hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He was diagnosed with a cold and a fever, prescribed amoxicillin and ibuprofen, and released on Monday afternoon after being held for 90 minutes for observation, the agency said.

The boy was returned to the hospital Monday evening with nausea and vomiting and died there just after midnight, CBP said.

 Guatemalan boy dies in US immigration custody; 8-year-old becomes second child to die at border in December

Representational image. AFP

CBP has not yet confirmed when or where the father and son entered the United States or how long they were detained, saying only in its statement that the boy had been "previously apprehended" by its agents.

The agency said the cause of the boy's death has not been determined, and that it has notified the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general and the Guatemalan government.

A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died earlier this month after being apprehended by border agents in New Mexico. The body of the girl, Jakelin Caal, was returned to her family's remote village Monday for burial on Tuesday.

The White House referred questions about the latest case to the US Department of Homeland Security, CBP's parent agency. CBP officers and the Border Patrol remain on the job despite the shutdown.

According to Guatemala's foreign ministry, the father and son entered the US at El Paso, Texas, on 18 December, then were taken to the Border Patrol's Alamogordo station on Sunday. Alamogordo is about 145 kilometers from El Paso.

Oscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, said he was told by the boy's father in a telephone interview that the two had been traveling from their home in Nentón, a village about 450 kilometers from Guatemala City. They were planning to go to Johnson City, Tennessee.

The consul identified the father as 47-year-old Agustin Gomez and said he remains in US Border Patrol custody.

CBP typically detains immigrants for no more than a few days when they cross the border before either releasing them or turning them over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for longer-term detention. Agency guidelines say immigrants generally shouldn't be detained for more than 72 hours in CBP holding facilities, which are usually smaller and have fewer services than ICE's detention centers.

Parents and children together are almost always released quickly due to limited space in ICE's family detention facilities.

A CBP spokesperson on Tuesday did not respond to questions about the ministry's statement.

The hospital, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, declined to comment, citing privacy regulations.

CBP promised "an independent and thorough review of the circumstances." The Guatemalan foreign ministry called for an investigation "in accordance with due process." Democratic members of Congress and immigration advocates sharply criticized CBP's handling of Jakelin's death and questioned whether border agents could have prevented it by spotting symptoms of distress or calling for an evacuation by air ambulance sooner.

CBP has said that it took several hours to transport Jakelin and her father from a remote Border Patrol facility to a larger station, where her temperature was measured at 40.9 degrees Celsius. Emergency medical technicians had to revive her twice. She was ultimately flown to an El Paso hospital, where she died the next day.

Large numbers of Guatemalan families have been arriving in recent weeks in New Mexico, often in remote and dangerous parts of the desert. Jakelin and her father were with 161 other people when they were apprehended in Antelope Wells, about 370 kilometers southwest of Alamogordo.

Updated Date: Dec 26, 2018 08:51:02 IST