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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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

On Friday, previously undisclosed court documents revealed that almost 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children seeking refuge were denied access to the U.S. and subsequently expelled from U.S. soil. None of these children were given a chance in court.

According to reporting done by CBS News, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have “suspended humanitarian protections” for most migrants crossing the border, on the grounds that “public health law overrides asylum, immigration and anti-trafficking safeguards” in the era of COVID-19.

CBS news made the shocking discovery when investigating the problematic and increased practice of holding and detaining minors in unregulated, privately contracted hotel rooms.

The government is arguing that the practice is keeping the American public safe from possibly COVID-19 exposure from unauthorized migrants.

“What we’re trying to do…is remove all individuals, regardless of whether they’re children — minors — or they’re adults,” Customs and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan said in an August media briefing.

He continued: “We’re trying to remove [the migrants] as fast as we can, to not put them in our congregate settings, to not put them into our system, to not have them remain in the United States for a long period of time, therefore increasing the exposure risk of everybody they come in contact with.”

via Getty Images

But critics are claiming that the Trump Administration is using COVID-19 as an excuse to unlawfully expel as many migrants as possible–regardless of their age.

On Friday, federal Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the administration to put an end to the practice of detaining children in hotel rooms, saying that hotels do not “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention”. She asked the government to put an end to the practice by September 15th.

It is in the court documents regarding the above case that 8,800 expelled migrant children number was revealed.

“The numbers are stunning,” said executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Lindsay Toczylowski, to CBS News. “…To find out that our government has literally taken children who are seeking protection and sent them back to the very places they fled in such high numbers really took my breath away.”

via Getty Images

US Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz has defended the unsafe hotel detainment and speedy expulsion of migrant children, saying that stopping the practice would increase risk of exposure to health and customs officials alike.

But even if the practice comes to an end, the staggering number of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children left to their own devices is sitting heavy on the soul of advocates and activists.

“It’s just completely contrary, not only to all child protection norms and standards, but also just completely contrary to our values as a nation around protecting the most vulnerable,” said vice president for international programs at Kids in Need of Defense Lisa Frydman to CNN. “Because we are just wholesale shipping them out without making sure that it’s safe for them to go.”

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ICE Continues To Disregard The Warning Signs As Another Migrant Dies Of Covid-19 While In Custody

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ICE Continues To Disregard The Warning Signs As Another Migrant Dies Of Covid-19 While In Custody

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 19 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year. 

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

The recent death of a 5-year-old Honduran man brings the total number of ICE victims to 19 – in 2020 alone.

According to a report by Buzzfeed News, a 50-year-old Honduran man has become the latest victim of ICE’s cruel and inhumane detention policies. The man died at a Texas hospital after testing positive for Covid-19, according to the report.

The man was previously being held detention at the Joe Corley Processing Center in Texas, where, according to agency statistics, at least 50 people have tested positive for the virus. The preliminary cause of death, according to the source, was respiratory failure due to Covid-19.

He becomes the 19th victim of reckless ICE detention policies during the 2020 fiscal year – which ends on September 30. So far this year, there have been at least 19 confirmed deaths of migrants in ICE custody – the highest total since 2006.

And some how, despite a significant drop in the detainee population, the number of deaths this year is more than double that of 2019. Last fall, there were more than 55,000 people in ICE custody per day. As of Aug. 1, that number had dropped to about 21,500 per day.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

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

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

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.”

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