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

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Biden Administration Says Number Of Kids In Border Custody Drops 84% Over Last Month

Things That Matter

Biden Administration Says Number Of Kids In Border Custody Drops 84% Over Last Month

As recently as last month more than 5,000 children languished in jail-like conditions inside U.S. Border Patrol facilities, often for longer than the 72-hour limit set by federal law. But, according to the Biden administration, that number has dropped by 84% as the agencies charged with migrant detention make significant progress.

Questions remain, however, about where these children are being sent to instead and why there remains a need for jail-like conditions in the first place.

The number of kids in jail-like Border Patrol facilities drops 84% compared to March.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children held in jail-like conditions by US Customs and Border Protection dropped nearly 84% in the span of a month, according to a White House official. As of last Wednesday, there were 954 children in CBP facilities, down from a peak of 5,767 on March 28, the official told CNN.

The average time that kids are in CBP custody is now 28 hours, compared to 133 hours on March 28, the official said, a nearly 80% reduction in time spent in Border Patrol detention.

In an interview with NBC News this week, Biden suggested that the situation with unaccompanied children is now under control, saying, “It’s way down now. We’ve now gotten control,” and touted “significant change in the circumstances for children to and at the border.”

In recent weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for the care of migrant children, has opened up a string of temporary shelters to accommodate minors. That’s allowed for an increasing number of children being transferred out of border facilities to spaces equipped to care for them at a quicker pace.

The drop in children in custody is a welcome sign given the conditions they faced.

In some cases, children were alternating schedules to make space for one another in confined facilities and taking turns showering, often going days without one, while others hadn’t seen the sunlight in days.

While the administration works to address root causes of migration, it’s also had to contend with growing numbers of children in government custody. As of April 27, there were more than 22,276 children in HHS care, according to government data.

Biden on NBC again warned Central American parents against sending children to the US.”Do not send your kids, period. They’re most — they’re in jeopardy going– making that thousand-mile trek,” Biden said. “And so what we’re doing now is we’re going back to those countries in question where most of it’s coming from and saying, ‘Look, you can apply from your country. You don’t have to make this trek.”

The shift in strategy comes as a new poll shows Americans overwhelmingly support new immigration policy.

A vast majority of Americans approve of the idea of engaging countries abroad to address the causes of migration before it happens, according to a new nationwide poll released Thursday.

Pollster Civiqs found that 85 percent of survey respondents agreed that the United States needs to engage with other countries to address migration patterns.

On a partisan basis, 86 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of Republicans, as well as 81 percent of independents, agree with that approach, according to Civiqs, which conducted the poll for Immigration Hub, a progressive immigration advocacy group.

The poll found that 57 percent of Americans accept illegal immigration when the immigrants are fleeing violence in their home countries.

That support is lower for undocumented immigrants who come for other reasons; 46 percent agree with immigrants arriving illegally to escape poverty or hunger, while 36 percent do if the migrants are seeking to reunite with family members, and 31 percent do if the migrants are looking for jobs in the United States.

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New Children’s Book ‘Escucha Mi Voz’ Tells the Stories of Migrant Children In Their Own Words

Culture

New Children’s Book ‘Escucha Mi Voz’ Tells the Stories of Migrant Children In Their Own Words

Courtesy Workman Publishing

Have you ever wondered what’s going on in the hearts and minds of migrant children? Are they afraid, sad? What circumstances at home forced them and their families to leave everything they’ve known behind and search for a new life in a strange land? Well, you wouldn’t be alone. A new book called “Escucha Mi Voz” is exploring those difficult questions.

Law professor and children’s rights advocate Warren Binford interviewed dozens of migrant children when visited a migrant facility in Clint, Texas in 2019.

While she was there, Binford witnessed the shocking and inhumane conditions migrants—and especially migrant children—are forced to live in. She decided to record their stories for the world to hear.

Binford compiled the harrowing stories in a picture book called “Escucha mi Voz/Hear My Voice”. Binford says she was inspired to create this project because of how difficult it was to relay these children’s stories to adult audiences. The book comes in both English and Spanish-language versions.

“People were so depressed. They would call me and say, ‘I can’t do it. I bawl my eyes out. It’s too much,'” Binford told NPR. “And so then it was like, ‘OK. How do we help people to access this knowledge that the children have given us in the children’s own words?’ “

“Escucha Mi Voz” features illustrations from 17 Latino artists, all interpreting the words of these migrant children in art form. 

“Having these really fabulous artists come together and illustrate the book helps to create a more accessible point of entry into these children’s lives, and who they are, and why they came to the United States,” Binford said.

“Escucha Mi Voz” features stories from migrant children who range in age from 4 to 17. They come from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador. But they all have one thing in common: they’ve experienced the trauma of displacement.

“We were kept in a cage. It is very crowded,” said one child. “There is no room to move without stepping over others. There’s not even enough room for the baby to crawl.”

“One of the guards came in yesterday afternoon and asked us how many stripes were on the flag of the United States,” said another. “We tried to guess, but when we were wrong, he slammed the door.”

Binford hopes that transforming these children’s stories into picture book-form will make their plight more accessible and relatable to American audiences.

“I hope families will actually have enough energy at the end of reading the book that they’re like, ‘What can we do?’ And, you know, ‘We’ll write to political leaders, maybe volunteer to be a sponsor or maybe volunteer to be a foster family.’ “

All proceeds of “Escucha Mi Voz” go directly to Project Amplify, an organization dedicated to “raising awareness for the plight of child migrants”. Buy your copy now through their website or Amazon.

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