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Health care for migrant children changed after 2 die in U.S. custody

WASHINGTON — After two Guatemalan children died in its custody, US Customs and Border Protection is changing how it handles health care for migrant detainees.

Jakelin Caal Maquin

CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan announced the changes Tuesday, the same day his agency reported the death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy late Christmas Eve.

The boy was identified as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, US Rep. Joaquin Castro said. Felipe’s death came 16 days after another Guatemalan child, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, died at a hospital in CBP custody on December 8.

In the wake of the boy’s death, McAleenan announced a series of new protocols:

  • First, Border Patrol is conducting secondary medical checks on all children in CBP care and custody, with a focus on children under age 10.
  • Second, Border Patrol is working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on surge options for transportation to Family Residential Centers and supervised release, CBP said. The agency also is reviewing other custody options to relieve capacity issues in the El Paso, Texas, sector, such as working with nongovernmental organizations or local partners for temporary housing.
  • Third, CBP is considering options for medical assistance with other governmental partners, the agency said. That could include support from the Coast Guard as well as possibly more aid from the Defense Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Finally, CBP is reviewing its policies, with a focus on the care and custody of children under 10 — both at intake and beyond 24 hours in custody, the agency said.

The CBP chief called the young boy’s death “a tragic loss.”

“On behalf of US Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” McAleenan said.

CBP released a timeline of the days before the boy’s death. The agency said the boy was taken to a hospital, diagnosed with a cold, released with medication, then taken back to the hospital before dying about 12 minutes before Christmas.

On Tuesday, Castro called for a congressional investigation of the death.

“While the CBP notified Congress within 24 hours as mandated by law, we must ensure that we treat migrants and asylum-seekers with human dignity and provide the necessary medical care to anyone in the custody of the United States government,” the congressman said in the statement.

Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry in a statement Tuesday also asked for an investigation and access to the boy’s medical records.

The ministry said it will provide assistance and consular protection to the father and assume responsibility for the repatriation of the boy’s remains.

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