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VICE News

Another Child Has Died in Immigration Custody. That's 5 Since December.

The cause of death for the Guatemalan 16-year-old isn't known yet

by Emma Ockerman
May 20 2019, 9:02pm

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. government custody Monday in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He was the third Guatemalan migrant child to die in immigration custody in the past week, and the fifth to die in U.S. immigration custody since December, according to NBC News.

A 10-year-old girl died on the Mexican government’s watch Tuesday when she was being treated for a sore throat, according to the Washington Post. And a 2 ½-year-old boy died the same day after he spent several weeks in an El Paso, Texas, hospital. The toddler was detained on April 3 with his mother, who told Border Patrol agents her son was ill. In both instances, the cause of death has not been released.

The 16-year-old, who was not named, was arrested for illegal entry in the U.S. on May 13 near Hidalgo, Texas. He was sent to the Weslaco Border Patrol Station on Sunday and was due to be placed with the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which handles migrant children. He was found unresponsive Monday morning, and his cause of death is not yet known.

“The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are saddened by the tragic loss of this young man and our condolences are with his family. CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody,” acting CBP commissioner John Sanders said in a statement. CBP has repeatedly blamed the deaths on the journey to get to the United States, rather than conditions in detention.

The agency now requires additional medical checks on all children in their custody after outrage surrounding the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old who died of a bacterial infection two days after she was detained in December. That same month, 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died of flu complications while in CBP custody. Both children were Guatemalan.

Additionally, another Guatemalan 16-year-old named Juan de León Gutierrez died in the custody of Health and Human Services on April 30.

CBP is reviewing the 16-year-old’s death, as it does with all deaths that occur in its custody. The Rio Grande Valley, where the boy died, sees more unauthorized border crossings than any other CBP sector, leaving it particularly strained. Activists and politicians have repeatedly questioned whether the government agency is capable of handling the increasing numbers of migrant children winding up in their detention centers due to the recent surge in families coming to the U.S. An unprecedented amount of migrants are fleeing Guatemala due to drought, poverty and violence.

Cover: In this Sept. 5, 2014 photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine agent looks for signs along a trail with assistance from agents in a helicopter near the Texas-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. Since illegal immigration spiked in the Rio Grande Valley this summer, the Border Patrol has dispatched more agents, the Texas Department of Public Safety has sent more troopers and Texas Gov. Rick Perry deployed as many as 1,000 guardsmen to the area. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)