An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody on Christmas Eve tested positive for influenza B, according to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.
The medical investigator’s office cautioned Thursday in a statement that the cause of death for Felipe Gómez Alonzo, who died just before midnight on Christmas Eve, was still under investigation. But it has been determined that he had the flu.
Felipe, along with his father, had been detained for a week after trying to cross the border illegally near El Paso on Dec. 18. Because of “capacity levels” in El Paso, they were moved to the Border Patrol station at Alamogordo, New Mexico, two days later, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. The next day, Felipe was sent to a hospital after a border agent noticed Felipe was coughing and had “glossy eyes,” the CBP said.
After initially being diagnosed with a cold and a fever, Felipe was prescribed amoxicillin and Ibuprofen. The CBP said he was held 90 minutes for observation and released Monday afternoon. That evening, he was sent back to the hospital with nausea and vomiting and died hours later.
Alonzo was the second child in three weeks to die while being detained near the U.S.-Mexico border by U.S. authorities.
Jakelin Caal, 7, also Guatemalan, died Dec. 8. at an El Paso children’s hospital after being detained with her father and while preparing to travel by bus to a Border Patrol station in New Mexico.
The back-to-back deaths prompted an outcry from immigration activists, politicians and human rights groups and raised questions about the Trump administration policies that have separated children and parents and filled detention centers.
Jakelin died two days after a grueling trip through the desert with her father along with 161 other migrants who had crossed the New Mexico border illegally. They were initially taken to a base in rural New Mexico that did not have running water, according to Democrats who visited it after the girl’s death.
Jakelin and her father were scheduled to travel by bus to a Border Patrol station in New Mexico when her father, Nery Gilberto Caal, told Border Patrol agents she was sick. She was taken to a children’s hospital in El Paso where she died.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is scheduled to travel to El Paso on Friday to see how the agency is conducting medical screenings and to review conditions at Border Patrol stations following the deaths this month of the two migrant children in federal custody.
Nielsen has called the Dec. 24 death of Alonzo a “deeply concerning and heartbreaking” tragedy and cited U.S. immigration system failings for a growing border crisis.
The top Trump administration border security official spoke out after directing a series of actions to care for undocumented immigrants taken into custody after illegal Mexican-U.S. crossings. The moves include U.S. Customs and Border Protection medical exams for all children it holds in custody.
In a statement to the El Paso Times, BorderRAC Executive Director Wanda Helgesen said that at least 450 minors had been screened at regional medical facilities in the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico.
Nielsen’s statement cited a recent jump in illegal border crossings by immigrant families and unaccompanied children. CBP apprehensions in those categories rose 86 percent – more than 68,000 family units and almost 14,000 unaccompanied children – over last year’s totals for the most recent two months along the Southwest border, she said.
Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told “CBS This Morning” that the latest death is a “tragic loss” but also a “rare occurrence.”
“It’s been more than a decade that we’ve had a child pass away anywhere in a CBP process so this is just devastating for us,” he says. “We’ve got over 1,500 emergency medical technicians that have been co-trained as law enforcement officers. They work every day to protect people that come into our custody.”
Nielsen said six people have died while in Border Patrol custody during Fiscal Year 2018, which ended in September, but that none were children.
The updated health testing directed by Nielsen marks a change in the handling of young children detained after entering the USA without required documentation and comes amid a partial shutdown of the federal government over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion to build a security wall at the nation’s southern border with Mexico.
Nielsen said the Border Patrol has detailed 139,817 migrants on the Southwest border in the past two months, compared to 74,946 for the same period last year. These include 68,510 family units and 13,981 unaccompanied children.
“Given the remote locations of their illegal crossing and the lack of resources, it is even more difficult for our personnel to be first responders,” Nielsen said.
McAleenan says Border Patrol stations “are not built for that group that’s crossing today.” CBP oversees the Border Patrol.
“They were built 30 to 40 years ago for single adult males, and we need a different approach,” he told CBS News. “We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities.”
Contributing: Sergio Bustos in Miami.
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