A 16-year-old migrant boy died Tuesday in U.S. government custody, becoming the third child since December to die in detention.
Officials have not yet revealed the identity of the teen, who officials said was not accompanied by any family. BuzzFeed first reported his death on Wednesday.
U.S. Border Patrol arrested the teenager on April 19 after he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into El Paso, Texas, according to a statement from Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A day later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took the boy to a government-contracted migrant youth detention center in Brownsville, Texas.
The shelter is called Southwest Key - Casa Padre, a former Walmart converted into a detention facility to house potentially more than 1,000 migrant children. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, is the government division responsible for unaccompanied migrant children.
“No health concerns were observed by clinicians with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when CBP facilitated the transfer of the minor to the shelter,” HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer told HuffPost on Thursday. “Upon arrival to the shelter the minor did not note any health concerns.”
Stauffer said the boy became “noticeably ill” the morning of April 21 and had a fever, chills and a headache. Shelter staff took the teen to a hospital’s emergency department that day, where he was treated and later taken back to the shelter. But his condition only worsened.
The next day, the teen went to a local hospital. But due to the severity of his condition, he was transferred later that day to a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, where he stayed for several days and underwent emergency surgery, according to officials. The teen had “a severe infection in the frontal lobe that showed no improvement even after surgery to stabilize the pressure inside the head,” Guatemala’s foreign ministry said, and he died on April 30.
Stauffer said HHS is currently reviewing the teen’s cause of death and that hospital staff gave updates to his family back in Guatemala. The department said ORR provides routine and emergency medical and mental health care for unaccompanied minors in its care.
According to the Guatemalan foreign ministry, Guatemalan consulate officers in McAllen, Texas, tried getting the boy’s parents humanitarian visas, but the parents were allegedly unable to travel because of their age. The teen’s brother and consulate officials visited him at the hospital, according to Stauffer.
Too many children have lost their lives in the custody of our government. Jess Morales Rocketto, Families Belong Together
The 16-year-old is the third Guatemalan minor to die in U.S. custody since early December. On Dec. 8, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died of shock and dehydration in federal custody after surviving a long journey from Guatemala with her father. On Dec. 24, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died of the flu, according to his initial autopsy results.
The teenager who died Tuesday was from Camotán, a Guatemalan municipality that suffered a famine nearly 20 years ago, resulting in a state of emergency and multiple deaths. A person familiar with the teen’s case told BuzzFeed that he made the journey in part because he was seeking medical treatment for headaches.
The boy died the same week U.S. President Donald Trump proposed charging fees to migrants seeking asylum. Trump has long pushed anti-immigration rhetoric and policies that demonize and keep immigrants and asylum-seekers out of the U.S.
Families Belong Together, a coalition of groups opposed to Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, said the president’s administration is the reason for the teen’s death.
“The Trump administration turned this sixteen-year-old boy’s life into a devastating statistic: The third child to die in the care of U.S. immigration authorities in the past five months alone. Too many children have lost their lives in the custody of our government,” the organization’s chair, Jess Morales Rocketto, said in a statement.
“President Trump should be ashamed. Family separation and his cruel immigration agenda are literally killing children.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who was blocked last year from visiting the very Southwest Key facility where the teen was held, sent a letter Thursday to HHS Secretary Alex Azar calling for the agency’s inspector general to investigate the boy’s death.
“We can all agree that this death should never have happened, and we must take immediate action to ensure other children do not suffer the same fate,” Merkley stated.
The letter calls for an update on any inspector general investigation by May 16.