More Medical Checks at Border After Second Child Dies

(CN) – Following the second death of an immigrant child in federal custody, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said it will begin conducting additional medical checks on children and review its policies on the care and custody of young children.

In this Jan. 25, 2017, file photo, an agent from the Border Patrol observes near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, N.M. (AP Photo/Christian Torres, File)

The announcement late Tuesday comes in the wake of the death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy on Monday, less than three weeks after the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl at an El Paso hospital.

According to the CBP statement, the boy died late Monday evening at a New Mexico hospital near the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station where he was being held with his father.

The boy and his father were apprehended by Border Patrol agents on Dec. 18 about three miles west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, where they were held for six days before they were transported to the station in Alamogordo, New Mexico – about 90 miles north of El Paso – on the evening of Dec. 22. Officials said the El Paso station had reached capacity.

On the morning of Dec. 24, about a day after the boy’s arrival in New Mexico, federal agents said they noticed he was coughing and had “glossy eyes.” He was transferred to the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center where he was released from the hospital that afternoon, less than an hour after he was found to have a 103-degree fever.

But, according to officials, the boy started vomiting around 7 p.m. Christmas Eve and was sent back to the hospital three hours later after he appeared “lethargic.” During the ride, he lost consciousness and was pronounced dead just before midnight.

His body will be transported to Albuquerque where it will undergo an autopsy.

The boy’s death comes during a partial government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a wall along the southern border.

CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said deaths in CPB custody are “extraordinarily rare.”

“This is a tragic loss. On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” McAleenan said.

Federal officials have not released the name of the boy, but Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman from San Antonio, has identified him as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez.

The death of the boy comes less than a month after 7-year-old Jackeline Caal Maquin died at an El Paso hospital on Dec. 7. Maquin died just eight hours after she and her father were taken into custody by Border Patrol agents south of Lordsberg, New Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security has announced an investigation into the incident. Her body has been returned to her hometown in Guatemala for burial.

Officials said the boy and his father were provided with showers, hot food and water while in federal custody in El Paso, and agents logged nearly two dozen welfare checks.

But the deaths have prompted outcry from activists.

“Both the death of this young boy and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal must be thoroughly and independently investigated, and the Trump Administration’s policies of cruelty toward migrants and asylum-seekers at the border must cease immediately before any more children are harmed,” Amnesty International Executive Director Margaret Huang said in a statement.

Federal officials have also faced sharp criticism this week after Immigrant and Customs Enforcement officials released hundreds of immigrants near a Greyhound bus station in downtown El Paso starting on Sunday without prior notification.

Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic representative from El Paso and rumored 2020 presidential candidate, said in a Facebook post that 200 immigrants were released on Tuesday and another 500 are expected to be released on Wednesday.

It’s unclear why the federal government has stopped coordinating the releases with local shelters.

CBP said in addition to conducting more medical checks on children, it is also looking into ways to reduce the issue of overcrowding at Border Patrol stations in the El Paso sector, which includes west Texas and southern New Mexico.

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