Immigration activists are calling for an investigation into the death of a 2-year-old Guatemalan boy released from federal custody, and warn that more deaths are likely unless authorities improve medical care and health screening of detainees.
The boy and his family were detained on April 3 near the Paso del Norte Bridge, and the child became sick three days later. He was sent to two different hospitals and died on Tuesday. Immigration officials say he was no longer under their custody when he died.
The boy is the fourth Guatemalan child to die since December after being detained with his family entering the U.S.
Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso-based advocacy group, says he’s not surprised by the most recent death and fears it will not be the last.
“Given the conditions we have seen in the detention process, we knew these things were likely to happen. And nothing has changed, so, unfortunately, we would not be surprised to see more deaths happen,” he says.
Garcia says the group has been documenting complaints at detention sites for several months and expects to publish a report in a few weeks. Some of the findings so far, he says, include inadequate health screenings, immigration officers who allegedly ignore health-related complaints, and delays in providing medication.
“When someone says ‘I’m sick,’ very often hours of days go by without anyone paying attention. Sometimes they come back with a pill or nothing at all. Often the (immigrant) receives zero treatment,” he said.
The group is calling for a prompt “thorough, impartial and independent” investigation into the deaths and into the conditions that immigrant families face while in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities.
The El Paso office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not immediately have a comment on the group’s allegations.
However, an official familiar with the case noted that the child was taken to a hospital after the mother advised agents that he was ill. That was on April 6. The family was released on its own reconnaissance on April 8, at which point they were no longer in Border Patrol custody, the official noted.