US Border Authorities’ Medical Ability Called Into Doubt After Deaths Of Two Migrant Children In Custody

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After a second child died while being detained by U.S. Border authorities, many are questioning the agency’s ability to care for the thousands of children under its watch, according to Business Insider.

On Christmas Eve, eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died while under detention with the border authorities. He had been held for at least a week after arriving from Guatemala, and was moved from facility to facility, including a stay at a highway checkpoint. He was taken to a New Mexico hospital after suffering from vomiting, fever, and a cough. He later died, though the cause of death is still under investigation.

Another child, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, died on December 8 after arriving in the U.S. from Guatemala. Her death is also under investigation, though reports indicate that she had been without food or water for several days — after being held at a facility that didn’t have running water. She began to experience seizures, with a high temperature and vomiting. She died in a hospital in El Paso.

Authorities at the border can detain people for up to 72 hours before they must be released to other government agencies for long-term custody. That’s because U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities are not equipped to handle prolonged detentions. In November, agents detained 5,283 migrant children, many of whom were held beyond the 3-day limit. The recent deaths have prompted many leaders to call into question the agency’s ability to deal with the influx of people.

Progressive lawmakers are calling for an in-depth investigation into the agency to determine where the problems lie. Incoming Democratic Texas Representative Veronica Escobar has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“There is a real failure here that we all need to reckon with,” she said recently. “We need to know how many other Jakelins and Felipes there have been.”

Texas Democrat Representative Henry Cuellar pushed to find alternatives to detention, such as ankle monitors, during a subcommittee overseeing border funding.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan has replied to critics, saying that the problem is a lack of funding and support from lawmakers. He said that sickness or death is rare.

“We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities and I’m committed to improving our conditions, even as we work on the broader problems — border security, and of course solving the issues in our legal framework that are inviting these families and children to make this dangerous journey,” McAleenan said.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen has ordered improved medical screenings for immigrant children “whether or not the accompanying adult has asked for one,” she said. She added that part of the issue is that agents are seeing more people suffering from respiratory illnesses than usual.