Editor's note 12/26 at 4:44 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information.
An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died on Christmas Eve during his second trip to the hospital, just six days after U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended him and his father at one of the busiest ports of entry in Texas.
Initially, the boy was given medication and discharged the same day he died. Several hours later, he started losing consciousness and vomiting and was taken back to the hospital. Within 45 minutes of arriving, he was pronounced dead.
The boy, identified as Felipe Gomez-Alonzo by the Guatemalan consulate in Phoenix, was the second child to die in Customs and Border Protection custody this month. Both deaths have raised concerns about the treatment of migrant children and the conditions in detention facilities.
In response to the deaths, CBP will review its protocol related to the care of sick migrant children, according to a statement the agency released Tuesday. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan has also ordered secondary medical checks on all children in custody, especially those under 10 years old.
Customs and Border Protection also said it’s reviewing “all available custody options,” including non-profits and temporary housing, to relieve the overcrowded conditions at border patrol stations.
“This is a tragic loss,” McAleenan said in a statement. “On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family.”
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Wednesday that she planned to travel to the border later this week to “see first-hand the medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations.”
"Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders,” Nielsen said. “This crisis is exacerbated by the increase in persons who are entering our custody suffering from severe respiratory illnesses or exhibit some other illness upon apprehension.”
She added that she’d directed U.S. agents in Mexico to “investigate the causes of these illnesses on their side of the border.”
Felipe was apprehended with his father on December 18 at around 1 p.m., at a location about 15-minute drive from the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas — one of the busiest border crossing stations.
Felipe and his dad were first taken to Paso Del Norte for processing, according to a timeline provided to VICE News by Customs and Border Protection. While detained there, they were given hot food, snacks, juice, and water, and agents logged six welfare checks (During a welfare check, an agent “directly observes all detainees are safe and secure, and attends to any issues observed or delayed by those detained,” according to Customs and Border Protection.)
Two days later, on Dec. 20, around noon, Felipe and his father were transferred to El Paso Border Patrol Station, nine miles away, where they were given showers, food, juice, and water. Agents said they logged 17 welfare checks over two days.
Due to capacity issues at El Paso, Felipe and his father were moved again, on Dec. 22, at around 11:30 p.m., this time to the Alamogordo Border Patrol station about 90 miles north, over the state border in New Mexico. They arrived around 1 a.m. and were given “personal hygiene products and meals” and received welfare checks, according to Customs and Border Protection.
Just four days later on December 24 around 9 a.m., Customs and Border Protection said that a processing agent noticed that Felipe was “coughing and appeared to have glossy eyes.” Felipe and his father were transferred to a nearby medical center on suspicion that they had the flu.
Initially, he was diagnosed with a common cold and given Tylenol. An hour later, around 1 p.m. during an evaluation for release, he was found to be running a 103-degree fever.
At 2:50 p.m., Felipe was discharged and given a prescription for an antibiotic and ibuprofen. He and his father were transported to a temporary holding facility near an interior checkpoint on Highway 70, which is used to catch smugglers and drug traffickers. There, Felipe and his father were offered and accepted a hot meal.
Around 5 p.m., border agents gave Felipe a dose of his prescribed medication. Two hours later, Felipe started vomiting. Customs and Border Protection said his father declined further medical assistance, as Felipe seemed to be feeling better.
Several hours later, around 10 p.m., Felipe “appeared lethargic and nauseous again,” according to Customs and Border Protection. Because the EMT was off duty, border agents brought Felipe back to the hospital. On the journey, he started losing consciousness and started vomiting again.
Less than 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital, he was pronounced dead.
“The Administration's policy of turning people away from legal ports of entry, otherwise known as metering, is putting families and children in great danger,” Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chairman Elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement.
The first death
Earlier this month Castro led an investigative tour to the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station in New Mexico, where a seven-year-old girl was held with her father before becoming ill and dying.
The girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, and her father were apprehended with a large group of migrants on Dec. 6, and held at a remote station for six hours in the middle of the night while they waited for transportation to Lordsburg border patrol station 95 miles away.
When the bus was preparing to depart, Jakelin’s father told border agents that his daughter had gotten sick and was vomiting. When they arrived, Jakelin had a fever of 105.9, was having seizures, and wasn’t breathing. She was taken to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with liver failure, and died that same day from dehydration and shock – about 24 hours after she’d been taken into custody.
The Trump Administration evaded responsibility for the girl’s death, and instead put blame on her father for bringing her to the U.S. “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country?” asked White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley. “No.”
“Serious questions were raised about the condition of Customs and Border Protection detention facilities and the lack of adequate medical supplies, equipment, and resources to properly treat migrants and the agents working there,” Castro said. “Many questions remain unanswered, including how many children have died in Customs and Border Protection custody.”
On Wednesday, House Democrats vowed to investigate the circumstances that may have led to the deaths of two migrant children in a month.
"The death now of two children in U.S. custody is unconscionable," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, calling on Homeland Security’s Inspector General to immediately open an investigation into Felipe’s death.
Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer also released a statement, writing that it is “incumbent upon Congress to ask serious questions about what happened and who bears responsibility.”
“House Democrats will not stand idly by and watch as our nation’s most fundamental values are eroded,” Hoyer wrote, “while innocent children are held like prisoners in cages and their lives placed at risk.”
Cover image: Mexican and United States citizens scan their documents as they pass through the El Paso Paso del Norte (PDN) Port of Entry across the Paso del Norte International Bridge between Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and the El Paso on July 17, 2014 in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/The Christian Science Monitor, Ann Hermes)