Fifth child dies in US custody after being detained at the border

CBP says 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died on Monday. He is the fifth migrant child to die in US custody since December.

US Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Border Patrol agents are seen during a tour of US Customs and Border Protection temporary holding facilities in El Paso, Texas [Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

The United States government said that a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala died Monday at a Border Patrol station in southern Texas, becoming the fifth death of a migrant child since December.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that Border Patrol apprehended the teenager in the Rio Grande Valley on May 13. The agency says the teenager was found unresponsive this morning during a welfare check.

The agency did not say why the teenager had been detained for a week, but said he was “due for placement” in a facility for youth operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The death comes less than a week after a two-year-old child died after he and his mother were detained by the Border Patrol. 


That boy died after several weeks in the hospital, according to US and Guatemalan authorities. Officials said at the time, the boy had a high fever and difficulty breathing, and authorities took him to a children’s hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

“Four in six months is a clear pattern of willful, callous disregard for children’s lives,” Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of the advocacy group Families Belong Together, said prior to the death of the 16-year-old boy on Monday. 

Fifth migrant child to die since December

All five children who have died after being apprehended by the Border Patrol were from Guatemala, which is ravaged by violence, poverty, and drought. All of those who have been identified were from the country’s indigenous communities. 


More than 114,000 people from Guatemala have been apprehended by the Border Patrol between October and April. Many have been detained in Mexico, which has faced pressure from the US government to restrict migration. Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said Thursday that a 10-year-old girl died in custody last Wednesday, a day after arriving with her mother at an immigrant detention centre in Mexico City.

In early December, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died of a bacterial infection.

Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died on Christmas Eve of a flu infection. He had been detained with his father for a week before falling sick. CBP acknowledged it transferred Gomez Alonzo and his father between stations because it did not have space at the El Paso station. The last place the son and father were detained was a highway checkpoint.

After Gomez Alonzo’s death, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would expand medical checks and ensure that all children in Border Patrol custody would receive “a more thorough hands-on assessment at the earliest possible time”. 


Juan de Leon Gutierrez, 16, died on April 30 after officials noticed he was sick at a youth detention facility operated by US Department of Health and Human Services. The medical examiner in Corpus Christi, Texas, said Juan had been diagnosed with a rare condition known as Pott’s puffy tumour, which can be caused by a severe sinus infection or head trauma.

Gutierrez’s mother told Al Jazeera earlier this month, that the teen left Guatemala in search of opportunities to send money back home after the family suffered from several years of drought in the country’s dry cone.

President Donald Trump‘s administration has for months warned that the US immigration system was at a “breaking point”. The administration has asked for $4.5bn in emergency humanitarian funding and for Congress to change laws that would allow agencies to detain families longer and deport them more quickly.

Many immigration detention facilities are overflowing and unequipped to house families with young children, especially as the numbers of families crossing the US-Mexico border surge to record highs. The Border Patrol made 99,000 apprehensions on the southern border just in April. More than half were parents and children travelling together. 


In recent weeks, the Border Patrol in El Paso has detained families for hours outside in a parking lot and under an international bridge. Migrant parents complained of having to sleep at that location on the ground outside or in poor conditions in tents.

The agency this month opened a larger, 500-person tent in El Paso as well as in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies