Immigration officials have announced new health checks for immigrant children in detention after a second child, an 8-year-old boy, died on Christmas Eve while in agency custody .
“This is a tragic loss. On behalf of US Customs and border protection, our deepest condolences go out to the family,” CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in a statement dated 25. December. He explained the new measures to deal with detained immigrant children and published more details on what happened before the boy’s death on December 24.
But Catholic groups such as the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas, said the death could have been avoided had US authorities not blocked migrants from entry points where they can legally seek asylum. . Instead, they said, migrants are forced to enter through more dangerous places, where they suffer from dehydration and other dangers, or they are sent to overcrowded places that are not suitable for harboring people. children.
“It had to happen,” said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute. “This is totally unacceptable. Children are not supposed to be accommodated at a checkpoint.”
According to the statement from CBP, the border control agency, the child and his father were apprehended on December 18 “west of the Paso Del Norte port of entry in El Paso, Texas, for entry. illegal “.
Between that date and December 24, they were moved to several locations and received food and water and “welfare checks” throughout the trip. The agency report says that on the morning of December 24, an agent noticed the child had “shining eyes” and was coughing. He was sent with his father to a general hospital for “possible flu symptoms” and received Tylenol and another medication.
After being released from the hospital the same day, the boy and his father were taken in “temporary detention” to a traffic checkpoint, the agency said, where later that evening the child vomited and “seemed lethargic”. Due to the worsening condition of the child, later that evening, authorities returned the couple to hospital.
On December 24, while on his way to the hospital, the boy started vomiting again and lost consciousness, the agency statement said, and hospital staff were unable to resuscitate him. The boy was pronounced dead just before midnight, according to CBP.
Although the agency did not release the boy’s name, a statement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus identified him as Felipe Alonzo Gomez from Guatemala. He is the second child identified as dying while in detention by US border officials in December. Earlier this month, authorities said Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old girl, also from Guatemala, died of dehydration while being held by the border patrol.
“We have had the death of another young child, and it is very disturbing,” Corbett said in a Dec. 26 telephone interview with Catholic News Service of El Paso. “I don’t know if it’s politics, I don’t know what’s going on, but this game politicians are playing in Washington (dealing with) the border is proving to be deadly.”
For some Catholic groups, the death of the second child on Christmas Eve was particularly striking.
As parents across the United States woke up to celebrate Christmas morning with their children, Felipe’s father, who traveled with him (and his mother who remained in Guatemala) mourned the loss of their young boy, ”said Christopher Kerr, executive director of Ignatian Solidarity. Ohio-based network. “Felipe’s death is a reminder that the children and their parents arrive at our border in the same condition that the baby Jesus experienced as Mary and Joseph struggled to find a safe place for his birth – vulnerable and in danger. as Christians we are called to respond with compassion, love and hospitality. “
The group has worked to get more than 1,000 people to send virtual Christmas cards “to Congress and President Trump specifically on caring for asylum seekers,” Kerr said.
But the irreversible loss of another child’s life is “a tragic example of our country’s desperate need for humane migration policies that respect the dignity and rights of all,” Kerr said.
“The Ignatian Solidarity Network will continue to mobilize our network to call on our elected leaders to ensure that our government protects the most vulnerable, especially refugees and asylum seekers, while addressing the root causes of migration with solutions. long-term. “
CBP said it would call for immediate health checks for all children in its care, “with a focus on children under the age of 10.”
The Washington Post reported on December 26 that US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would send US Coast Guard medics to the southern border “to screen immigrants over the death of two young children of Guatemala who were in federal custody “.
She is also expected to visit temporary migrant detention centers in late December and will send officials from the Centers for Disease Control to investigate, the newspaper reported.
“We shouldn’t have waited for the deaths of two children for this to happen,” Corbett said. “My prayer for Christmas is that Jakelin and Felipe’s death doesn’t make sense. I hope their death marks the end of something and the start of something new. Children shouldn’t die. is not a game. “