America’s border security head warned Wednesday officials were overwhelmed by the “enormous flow” of families crossing from Mexico, appealing for federal health care funding after the second child in a month died in custody.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals, as most facilities were built decades ago for men arriving alone.
“We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental healthcare for children in our facilities,” he told CBS News.
Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez, who collapsed after running a fever, was among almost 25,000 migrant children in U.S. custody, according to McAleenan – the greatest number ever recorded.
“That’s an enormous flow, that’s very different from what we’ve seen before,” he said, adding that the onset of the flu season was putting further pressure on health care services.
The Department of Homeland Security said 60 percent of the population crossing the border are children or family units, a relatively recent surge that the system has not been designed to cope with.
We are very saddened to learn of the death of another child in U.S. custody. We must focus on the wellbeing of these children above any other concern.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) December 25, 2018
“Many of our facilities, especially in the very remote areas, were designed and built for apprehension, detention and transportation of this specific group of population, single adult male,” it said in a statement.
DHS officials said all children in border control custody would be given a thorough medical screening, reaffirming McAleenan’s commitment to “secondary medical checks” with a focus on those under 10.
Guatemala has called for an investigation into the boy’s death, which came just three weeks after a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl died in similar circumstances.
Felipe was detained with his 47-year-old father at a crossing in El Paso, Texas on December 18 and had been transferred to a New Mexico medical center showing signs of sickness on Monday, the CBP said.
Staff diagnosed him with a cold but later discovered a fever. He was discharged midday, with prescriptions for ibuprofen and the antibiotic amoxicillin.
The boy was later sent back to the hospital suffering from nausea and vomiting. He died shortly before midnight on December 24.
The CBP said it had not established the cause of death but would “ensure an independent and thorough review of the circumstances.”
‘Disregard for Human Life’
Opposition Democrats reacted to Felipe’s death by accusing Trump – who has made hardline immigration policies a central plank of his presidency – of demonizing migrants for political gain.
“Heartbroken and sickened by this news,” Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico tweeted.
“The Trump administration must be held accountable for this child’s death and all the lives they have put in danger with their intentional chaos and disregard for human life.”
Nydia Velazquez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York, demanded “accountability” and an end to the White House’s “hateful, dangerous anti-immigrant policies.”
— ABC News (@ABC) December 26, 2018
The boy’s death came on the same day that Jakelin Caal, the Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. custody, was buried.
Her body arrived on Sunday in San Antonio Secortez, the remote village where her family – members of the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya people – live without electricity and other basic services.
“This girl left home happy searching for a dream, but unfortunately died on the way,” community leader Alberto Pop told AFP in the cemetery.
More on the Subject
Many of the mothers traveling in the so-called migrant caravan are barely 20 years old. But they tend to have one thing in common: they are fleeing Honduras to prevent gangs from killing or recruiting their sons, from kidnapping or raping their daughters, a fate that befell many of them.
Like a lot of the caravan kids, Jennifer Molina’s two children, aged three and five, regularly have a fever.
“I know it’s dangerous, I know we could be robbed, but we don’t have another option,” she said.
“The gangs wanted to force my husband to transport drugs and when he refused, they threatened to kill us all.”
When not crying either over the imposing mass of migrants or from seeing their parents beg for food, the children entertain themselves with improvised games.
They play at a future in which their parents’ American dream has become reality.