A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died Monday in United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody in Texas, officials there said, making him the fifth minor to die after being apprehended by U.S. agents since December at the border wtih Mexico.
US: 2-year-old Migrant Boy Dies After Crossing Border
The boy, Carlos Hernandez, was arrested by U.S. CBP agents May 13 after crossing the border near Hidalgo, Texas with a group of 70 others, according to the agency.
Early Sunday morning, Hernandez told the staff at the central processing station where he was being held that he was not feeling well, a CBP official told reporters.
He was diagnosed with the flu and transferred to the Weslaco Border Patrol Station in south Texas later that day to separate him from others at the processing station in the Rio Grande Valley, the official said.
He was due to be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the care of minor migrant children who cross into the United States without adult family members.
But Monday morning, during a “welfare check,” the boy was found unresponsive, according to a CBP statement. The statement said the cause of death was not yet known, and that the Department of Homeland Security and the Guatemalan government had been notified.
The Guatemalan foreign ministry requested that U.S. authorities urgently explain the cause of death. Local and federal law enforcement are investigating what caused Hernandez to die.
The Guatemalan ministry also said that Hernandez was from the northern department of Baja Verapaz and trying to enter the U.S. to reunite with his family.
Guatemalan Boy Who Died in US Border Custody Buried
The boy was the fifth Guatemalan minor since December to die after being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, making Hernandez the fourth to die in U.S. custody.
A fifth child, who crossed the border with his mother in April, died last week in a hospital but had already been released from U.S. custody at the time.
Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of advocacy group Families Belong Together said, "Four in six months is a clear pattern of willful, callous disregard for children's lives.”
From October 2018 to April 2019, nearly 293,000 people traveling as families were apprehended at the southern U.S. border—a nearly four fold jump over the same time frame the previous year.
Immigrant advocates say the administration’s policies, including making it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum at official ports of entry, contribute to making their journeys more arduous and drive migrants to seek out remote border outposts badly equipped to care for children.
Julie Linton, co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, said she was concerned about sick children potentially being housed in bare-bones border protection facilities for extended periods of time.
“There certainly need to be conditions that do not include lying on a mat with a Mylar blanket on a floor that is cold, and cage-like fencing that extends to the ceiling,” she said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “We absolutely need pediatric health experts at the border.”