Things That Matter

A 16-Year-Old Guatemalan Boy Died In Border Patrol Custody And Thanks To An Autopsy We Now Have More Details On Why

In March, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died while at a South Texas Border Patrol station, and an autopsy report released on Wednesday is offering jarring new details around his passing.

The 16-year-old died in US custody but new details paint a troubling picture of his death.

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez crossed the US-Mexico border near Weslaco, Texas by himself on May 13. The teen was taken to a processing center for unaccompanied minors in McAllen for six days. On May 19, after a nurse practitioner found that he had a 103-degree fever and tested positive for the flu, he was given Tamiflu and transferred to the Border Patrol station at Weslaco. The next morning, Hernandez Vasquez was dead.

His loss marked the fifth death of a migrant child in Border Patrol custody since December, prompting many questions from immigrant rights activists and community members. Now an autopsy report obtained by Texas Monthly is offering some answers. 

According to the account, the teen died of a flu that was complicated by pneumonia and sepsis. Dr. Norma Jean Farley, a contract forensic pathologist for Hidalgo County who conducted the autopsy, said a video captures the unpleasant final moments of his life. Hernandez Vasquez was fed at 2 a.m. on May 20, with agents checking in on him once an hour. Some time later (a concrete hour isn’t known because the timestamp on the video is incorrect, with no details in the report explaining the inaccuracy), the teen is seen lying on the floor, vomiting on the floor, and walks over to the commode, where he sits and later lies back and expires.”

Hernandez Vasquez’s body was found at 6 a.m. that morning. He was declared dead 12 minutes later.

Credit: @splcenter / Twitter

After news of his passing went viral, the agency’s acting commissioner, John Sanders, made a written statement. 

“The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are saddened by the tragic loss of this young man and our condolences are with his family,” he said, as reported by the Dallas News. “CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody.”

However, in Hernandez Vasquez’s case, and that of several other detained ill children, Border Patrol did not follow protocol. The agency is required to transfer unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, but they did not. Even more, despite his poor health, he was not taken to a hospital.

After mounting criticism, the teen’s death was put under review to determine why proper procedures were not followed.

Credit: @ErikaAndiola / Twitter

According to Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and MassGeneral Hospital for Children, it is “fairly rare” for children living in the United States to die from the flu. He told the Texas Monthly that about one out of 600,000 US children die of the sickness. However, out of 230,000 young people being held in Customs and Border Protection, three have died of the flu.

Dr. Judy Melinek, a veteran forensic pathologist who reviewed Hernandez’s autopsy, as well as the three other autopsies available for migrant children who died in custody, said the conditions in which detained children are kept leads to high health risk.

“Prolonged custody of mixed groups of migrants from different regions in close quarters increases the likelihood of transmission of respiratory pathogens such as influenza,” Melinek, a board-certified forensic pathologist in San Francisco and CEO of PathologyExpert Inc., told the paper.

As a result, she is calling for a “public health audit of the policies and conditions in these migrant camps and a forensic review of all migrant deaths.”

Up until December, a child hadn’t died in Border Patrol custody in a decade.

Credit: @UNITEDWEDREAM / Twitter

Curiously, each of the five unaccompanied minors who did pass on had initially been taken into custody by agents from the El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley sectors of the Border Patrol. 

Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died in an El Paso hospital on Dec. 8. The late child, who had journeyed to the United States with her father, perished from a bacterial infection that spread to her bloodstream and caused multiple organ failure. Weeks later, on Christmas Eve, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, died of influenza B and bacterial infection. This year, 16-year-old Juan DeLeon Gutierrez died at a Corpus Christi hospital on April 30 after getting sick at an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Brownsville, Texas. A month later, on May 14, 2-year-old Josue Ramirez Vasquez died of “multiple intestinal and respiratory infectious diseases,” including influenza A.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would institute basic standards of care for those in Border Patrol custody. H.R. 3239, which passed 233 to 195, aims to prevent the now-growing deaths of detained children by establishing standards of care that meet people’s humanitarian needs. 

Credit: @RepFletcher / Twitter

The measure proposes ensuring that everyone in Border Patrol custody has access to drinking water; private, clean and reliable toilets that include a proper waste disposal and a hand washing station; basic personal hygiene products; and receive the medically appropriate number of calories for age and weight to height ratio. It also requires facilities to maintain shelter and environmental standards, like minimum space requirements, specified temperature ranges and appropriate bedding, as well as provide adequate training to officers responsible for implementing the new stipulations.

“Today’s vote brings us closer than ever to preventing the deaths of children and restoring humanity to our treatment of children and families seeking asylum,” Rep. Raul Ruiz’s (D-CA) said.

Read: The New York Times Asked People To Share Stories Of Being Told To “Go Back” Where They Came From And My Heart Aches

Another Man Has Died Of Covid-19 In ICE Custody And The Agency Still Lacks Any Plan To Prevent More Deaths

Things That Matter

Another Man Has Died Of Covid-19 In ICE Custody And The Agency Still Lacks Any Plan To Prevent More Deaths

Patricia Lovera / Getty

For months, migrant and refugee rights organizations have implored the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – the agency that oversees ICE – to release all people in their custody to avoid mass contagion. The fear has been that keeping thousands of people in close quarters and without proper access to medical care could result in the deaths of countless people.

ICE has refused to acknowledge the risk and instead has been shifting migrants around in a strategy of ‘mitigating’ risk. The results have been mixed as reports of low testing capacity and lack of medical care have called the organization’s strategy into question.

News broke on May 6 of the first migrant in ICE custody to die of Covid-19, now it’s been confirmed that a second detainee has died of the virus. And now many are wondering who’s next and how bad will it get?

A Guatemalan man has become the second confirmed death related to Covid-19 while in ICE custody.

Credit: Core Civic

Santiago Baten-Oxlag, a 34-year-old from Guatemala, died of complications from Covid-19 on Sunday. He becomes the second confirmed victim of the virus while in ICE custody after a man from El Salvador died in early May.

Baten-Oxlag has been transferred to a hospital from ICE’s Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. He’d been in the hospital since April 17, according to CBS News, while waiting to voluntarily return to Guatemala.

The 34-year-old had been in ICE custody since March 2, when he was arrested at a probation office in Marietta, Georgia, following a conviction for driving under the influence, ICE told Buzzfeed News. He agreed to voluntarily leave the US on March 26.

A 57-year-old man was the first confirmed Covid-19 related death in ICE custody.

Credit: Sarah Voisin / Getty

A 57-year-old man, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, from El Salvador who had tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody in Southern California on Wednesday.

Mejia had been in ICE custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near the California border with Mexico since January and tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on April 24.

Reports of the man’s death drew swift condemnation from immigrant rights organizations, who’ve been pushing for weeks for ICE to release more detainees from its facilities and arguing coronavirus poses a deadly threat to immigrants behind bars.

“The heartbreaking tragedy at Otay Mesa could have been prevented had US immigration officials heeded the recommendations of medical experts and acted in time,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights, in a statement.

For months, several major organizations have called for an orderly, coordinated release of detainees in ICE and CBP detention facilities.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty

Court challenges in multiple states seek to compel ICE to release detainees in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The Otay Mesa center southeast of San Diego is the subject of such a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The San Diego facility has 132 COVID-19 cases, the most patients by far of the 41 detention centers where the virus has been reported. There have also been 10 employees at the facility who have contracted the virus, according to ICE.

The facility has also been the target of protesters who, on April 11, drove up in vehicles and honked to bring attention to the health conditions.

“Despite unwavering calls to prevent this, Trump’s immigration system took another life,” Paola Luisi, co-director of the immigrant advocacy group Families Belong Together said in a statement Wednesday.

“You cannot cage a virus, and it is impossible to safely physically distance behind bars,” she said. “We fear this tragic death will be the first.”

A San Francisco Mural Is Honoring An Undocumented Guatemalan Immigrant Who Was Unarmed And Killed By Police

Things That Matter

A San Francisco Mural Is Honoring An Undocumented Guatemalan Immigrant Who Was Unarmed And Killed By Police

cialuart / Instagram

The people of San Francisco have a lot of heart. Yes, the wealthy thrive there, and the homeless community continues to grow, but somewhere in the middle is an empowering group of fighters for justice. They do not back down but instead make their voices heard loud and clear. It’s a tight-knit alliance that is responsible for forcing change on all fronts of authority. San Franciscans are also incredibly beautiful at honoring fallen residents. 

Almost five years after 20-year-old Amilcar Perez-Lopez was gunned down by police in San Francisco, artists are honoring him with a massive mural in the Mission District.

Credit: crashgrammy / Instagram

The mural was designed and directed in community and collaboration by Carla Elana Wojczuk with, Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth (HOMEY), Justice4Amilcar Coalition, Mission community, Lucía González Ippolito, and assisted by Flavia Elisa Mora; Lead Muralists: Carla Elana Wojczuk, Lucía González Ippolito, Cristian Muńoz, Anna Lisa Escobedo, Adrianna Adams, Flavia Elisa Mora (painting and poetry), Pancho Pescador; lettering: Sonia G Molin. The mural is titled “Alto al Fuego en La Misón” and the most prominent subject on the mural is Perez-Lopez, the undocumented young man from Guatemala.

On Feb. 26, 2015, Perez-Lopez was fatally shot by the SFPD, who were in plainclothes in the Mission District. The officers reported that they “opened fire to protect themselves and others from a man who was acting erratically and was armed with a knife,” the SFGate reports. Witnesses told a different story. They said Perez-Lopez was running for his life, which is why he was shot in the back. 

The Perez-Lopez investigation went on for years, and in the end, the SFPD was never charged, but Police Chief Greg Suhr did resign from his post. However, it wasn’t just because of the pushback from the Perez-Lopez investigation but from multiple fatal shootings of unarmed people at the hands of the police. His parents eventually won a settlement from the SFPD

Aside from the artful depiction of Perez-Lopez, the mural also pays tribute to Black and brown people who have died as a result of police brutality as well as people who have died on the southern border.

Credit: amaya_papaya28 / Instagram

During the year in which he was killed, Perez-Lopez “was one of the 67 Latino people killed,” the Guardian reports. The publication adds that Perez-Lopez was also one of the 58 percent who was killed and unarmed. 

“‘Why didn’t you put in Jessica Williams?’ Or, ‘Why didn’t you put in this person?’ The truth of the matter is that we just didn’t have enough space,” Ippolito told the SFWeekly. “And I wish we could include a lot more.”

Ippolito said she and the rest of the mural team were confronted with the fact they didn’t have enough space to put every person that lost their life because of the SFPD. The mural is already one of the largest murals “to be painted in the Latino Cultural Corridor in a decade,” according to the local publication. 

“That was the hardest part,” Anna Lisa Escobedo, another artist on this project, said to SF Weekly. “From the community, a lot of people were saying, ‘We are missing this person, this person, this person.’ We could do five more murals and focus on people who had the same circumstances, and that is sad.”

This isn’t the first artwork that has honored Perez-Lopez.

Credit: msmichellemeow / Instagram

His painted portrait was seen throughout the streets of San Francisco when residents demanded justice in his death. A couple of months after he was killed, artist YESCKA painted a mural that included Perez-Lopez. The mural was painted on the sidewall of the gallery Red Poppy Art House, which is located just blocks two from where Perez-Lopez was shot and killed. 

The mural by Ippolito is pretty remarkable because of its use of bright colors, and the inclusion of Mexican motifs, both the Guatemalan and San Francisco landscape, and Perez-Lopez in his signature Giants baseball cap. But the mural is also representative of an altar of sorts. Perez-Lopez is pictured inside an altar, and the rest of the people that are honored in the painting are seen on prayer candles. 

The other deceased individuals on the mural include Roxana Hernandez, Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, and Oscar and Valeria Martinez, who died either on the southern border or in ICE custody. 

Credit: cialuart / Instagram

This mural is a perfect addition to the many outstanding paintings that the city of San Francisco has to offer. 

One of my favorite things to do when I am back in the Mission is to go on a walking tour to gaze at the stunning murals that depict the people of San Francisco, but also the history of our community.  

READ: One Of The Major Artists In The Chicano Art Movement Has Died At 75