Border officials make policy changes after 8-year-old migrant died in custody

The new policy changes will focus on the medical care and attention for children under the age of 10

Sarah Harvard
New York
Wednesday 26 December 2018 17:34
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US Customs and Border Protection announced it will be making substantial policy changes as the timeline of an eight-year-old Guatemalan migrant boy’s final days were revealed to the public.

The boy, identified as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez by Texas Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro, died on Christmas Eve under CBP custody and after several days after being apprehended with his father by border agents.

In the wake of Mr Gomez’s death, which comes a couple of weeks after seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died while hospitalised under CBP custody, prompted the agency to enact substantial new policy changes in regard to medical care for detained migrants and refugees.

CBP Commissioner Kevin K McAleenan announced these changes on Tuesday, the same day his agency reported the death of Mr Gomez.

The new policies require Border Patrol to conduct secondary medical checks on all children under CBP care and custody with special attention to children under the age of 10. It also will have CBP to work with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for transportation to Family Residential Centres, and review other custody options with non governmental organisations and local partners in the case of overcrowding in detention centres. CBP will also be looking into seeking medical assistance from other government agencies and partners including the Coast Guard, Defence Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agency said it detained Mr Gomez and his father on December 18. It wasn’t until six days later that border agents noticed the eight-year-old boy was coughing and had glassy eyes on the morning of December 24. The agents then transferred the boy and his father to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Centre in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was diagnosed with a “common cold” at 12.45pm on Christmas Eve. Less than an hour later, Mr Gomez had a 103-degree fever and was kept under observation before being released around 3pm with ibuprofen and amoxicillin prescriptions.

A few hours later, at 7pm, the eight-year-old boy then “appeared to be nauseous and vomited,” and CBP reported that his father “declined further medical assistance,” claiming he said his son felt better. But then at 10pm, Mr Gomez and his father returned to the hospital after he “appeared lethargic and nauseous again.” During his commute to the hospital, agents reported that the boy “began to vomit” and lost consciousness. The medical centre staff were unable to revive the boy and he was pronounced dead at 11.48pm.

Earlier CBP statements reported that the child died on Christmas Day, but an updated report clarified that Mr Gomez died the day prior.

Commissioner McAleenan called the boy’s death “a tragic loss” in a statement.

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

Mr Gomez is, unfortunately, the second child to die under CBP custody in December, and the third to have died this year following immigration custody. In the summer, an 18-month-old migrant baby died from viral pneumonitis six weeks after being released from ICE custody with her mother. Earlier this month, another seven-year-old girl died after being hospitalised from pneumonia after being held in a border processing facility in freezing conditions.

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