By Christianna Silva
On Tuesday, April 30, a 16-year-old boy who migrated to the U.S. unaccompanied from Guatemala died in government custody. He is the third child to die while being detained since December.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials brought the boy, who has not yet been identified, to the Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Brownsville, Texas, on April 20 after he crossed the border near El Paso, Texas, according to Aura Bogado, an investigative immigration reporter at Reveal. Evelyn Stauffer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Administration of Children and Families, confirmed this to MTV News.
According to Stauffer, “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 [on April 20]. Upon arrival to the shelter the minor did not note any health concerns. On the morning of April 21, 2019 the minor became noticeably ill including fever, chills and a headache.”
That morning, shelter personnel brought him to a hospital emergency department where he was treated; the hospital released him back to the shelter that same day. On April 22, he was taken to another hospital emergency department, where he was eventually transferred to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi for treatment and surgery. He died on April 30.
“Arrangements were made for the minor’s brother and Guatemalan consular officials to visit the minor while he was hospitalized,” she said, adding that the family who still lives outside of the country “received frequent updates from hospital staff.”
The cause of death is currently unknown, and, according to Stauffer, is under review. He is the third child to die in government custody after crossing the U.S. Mexico border in five months. Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal and eight-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, both died in custody of CBP
The government currently contracts with private and nonprofit shelters to hold unaccompanied migrant children until a member of their family can pick them up. In this case, ICE dropped the 16-year-old off at Southwest Key Casa Padre, a shelter run out of an old Walmart that houses 1,200 children. Casa Padre has had at least four sexual abuse allegations over the past three years, according to documents from Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the ORR. Southwest Keys, the largest network of shelters for migrant kids that brought in over $600 million in federal grants in 2018, according to Buzzfeed News, did not comment to MTV News about the 16-year-old. Instead, the group referred MTV News to Stauffer at the ACF. At the time of publication, ICE did not respond to a request for comment from MTV News.
The 16-year-old’s death comes just days after President Donald Trump sent a memo to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr calling for an array of sweeping changes to how the U.S. treats asylum-seekers, including charging asylum-seekers a fee for applications and work permit applications.
It also comes in the middle of massive unrest within the administration, and the Department of Homeland Security specifically. In April, Trump fired DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who infamously defended the separation of thousands of migrant children from their families. In early April, around the time Trump gutted DHS, the ORR said it was on track to detaining the largest number of migrant youth in history, according to Buzzfeed News, with around 32,000 unaccompanied children referred to the ORR for custody.
“The Trump administration turned this 16-year-old boy’s life into a devastating statistic: the third child to die in the care of US immigration authorities in the past five months alone,” Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of Families Belong Together, a nonprofit that works to end family separation and detention, said in a statement. “Too many children have lost their lives in the custody of our government. President Trump should be ashamed. Family separation and his cruel immigration agenda are literally killing children.”