News by VICE

A Toddler from Guatemala Is the 4th Child to Die in U.S. Custody Since December​

It’s not clear when, exactly, the toddler got sick, and the death is still under investigation.

by Tim Marcin
May 16 2019, 3:56pm

A Guatemalan toddler — just 2 1/2 years old — died Tuesday evening after spending weeks in the hospital after the boy’s family was apprehended at the border in April.

The boy, who has not been identified, is the fourth migrant minor to die after being apprehended at the border since December. It’s not clear when, exactly, the toddler got sick, and the death is still under investigation. He appeared to develop some kind of pneumonia, Guatemala’s Consul Tekandi Paniagua told the Washington Post, which first reported the news.

Agents first came into contact with the toddler’s family on April 3 at Paso Del Norte Bridge in El Paso, Texas, CBS News reported, citing an anonymous Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official. The mother was reportedly alerted on April 6 that the boy was sick and had been taken to a hospital. Two days later the family was released on their own recognizance and given a notice to appear in court. The boy died in the hospital after about a month.

“A 2 year old baby boy ‘apprehended' by armed security forces. He's now dead,” RAICES Texas, nonprofit immigration legal services group, tweeted. “No baby should be ‘apprehended’. Immigrants should NEVER be kept in detention centers. This continues until we start treating people fleeing asylum in a humane way.”

The four minors who have died since December after being apprehended were all Guatemalan. On April 30, a 16-year-old boy died in of complications from a brain infection in a hospital after spending time in a Texas facility for unaccompanied migrant children. A 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy died in December in U.S. custody after being apprehended at the border.

In August, 18-month-old Mariee Juárez also died of viral pneumonitis after getting sick in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. She spent time in three different hospitals.

Apprehensions at the border have recently increased to levels not seen since 2007. For the second consecutive month, in April, there were more than 100,000 apprehensions at the border, the majority of which were families, Border Patrol officials reported last week.

Advocates have repeatedly questioned the government’s ability to care for the migrants it detains. An ICE detention center in Colorado, for instance, had just one in-house doctor to treat some 1,500 detainees during a chickenpox outbreak in February, a congressman who visited said. And a doctor who works with migrant families told Time in December that CBP facilities she toured were often cold, constantly lit and had poor food. Some processing centers have concrete floors, cages and mats to sleep on the floor.

In March, then-CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan — who is now acting homeland security secretary — said Border Patrol was at its “breaking point” with the number of migrants coming to the U.S.

But critics of the White House have said Trump himself manufactured the crisis with ineffective immigration policies and an insistence on redirecting resources to his long-promised border wall. The Trump administration has also made the asylum process significantly more complicated, which has helped slow down the process across the board.

Cover image: In this April 5, 2019, photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the a section of the U.S. border wall with Mexico in Calexico, Calif. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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