Things That Matter

She Died In Border Patrol Custody, Now Details Are Emerging In The 7-Year-Old Guatemalan’s Death

We can’t say this enough (and no, we won’t get “over it”): the Trump administration’s hardened stance on migration has led to mass-scale suffering and individual stories that would break just about anybody’s heart. We have already discussed the living conditions in which minors are being kept in actual cages, how families are being separated sometimes permanently and the effects of an increased used of private companies to provide housing facilities for migrants and refugees detained by ICE and Border Patrol.

There have been deaths while migrants are in custody of these agencies. And recently doctors have been detained for trying to administer flu shots to migrant kids who due to weakened bodies, stress and physical proximity to each other are prone to acquire contagious diseases. The current situation in the border has brought out the best and the worst in people, from amazing acts of compassion to the most xenophobic remarks that lack any kind of nuance. 

But among all stories of despair and death, perhaps the ones that affect us the most on an emotional level are the deaths of minors while on custody of United States authorities.  

A Guatemalan girl was seven, and she died of dehydration, exhaustion and shock while in custody of Border Patrol.

The authorities have not released the girl’s name, but we know she was trying to cross the Mexican border illegally with her father. The pair were caught along with a group of undocumented migrants in a remote spot of the New Mexico desert. She was taken into the custody of the Border Patrol, which informed of her death on Thursday.

The details of her death are harrowing. As reported by The Washington Post: “the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in”. 

While in custody things took a turn for the worse, her already dire condition quickly deteriorated and it is unclear whether she was given water or food.

Yes, migrants arrive to the United States in terrible physical condition after crossing the desert in possibly the worst conditions anyone could imagine. They are subject to heat, unbelievable emotional distress, wildlife threats and lack of food and water. But the humane thing to do, and not just humane but also ethical and ascribed to international law, is to provide medical care to those detained.

The Washington Post report informs: “More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she ‘reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.” As The Washington Post argues, this could lead to further scrutiny to the processes through which migrants are processed and their health assessed. 

The child was transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso, Texas.

However, it was too late: less than 24 hours after arriving to El Paso. The father remains in El Paso with Guatemalan consular authorities. According to The Washington Post, Border Patrol is investigating the circumstances in which the little girl died, as “Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures.”

The influx of migrants seems to have outgrown the capacity of US authorities and the sociopolitical situation in Latin America, and particularly in Central America, has led to recent episodes of violence and strife that has increased the number of those who wish to find survival (not even a better life, but the possibility to remain alive) in the United States. 

Activists are furious over how long it took for authorities to release information on the case.

Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said in a statement: “The fact that it took a week for this to come to light shows the need for transparency for CBP. We call for a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths.”

The autopsy results won’t be available for several days, but facts lead to dehydration, septic shock and fever. And it seems that we will sadly have more cases like this, as apprehensions have registered record numbers in recent months. As WP reports: “In November, Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 25,172 “family unit members” on the southwest border.” There is indeed a humanitarian crisis at hand.

This Mother Was Allowed Into The US With Her Daughters But Her Partner And Son Were Forced To Stay In Mexico, Now They’re Suing

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This Mother Was Allowed Into The US With Her Daughters But Her Partner And Son Were Forced To Stay In Mexico, Now They’re Suing

EqualityNow / Instagram

Remember their names: Maudy Constanza  and Hanz Morales. They are two Guatemalans who are suing the United States to keep their family together (they have two daughters who are with Constanza in the United States and one son, aged 9, who was returned to Mexico with Morales).

The recent crackdown on undocumented migrants and refugees under the Trump administration has produced all sorts of stories of broken homes, crushed dreams and near impossible survival. Chief among the many controversial steps that the government has taken in the last two years is the set of policies and transnational deals that have led many undocumented migrants to deportation.

The influx of migrants and asylum seekers into the United States comes from all over the world, and people fleeing dangerous situations in places as far as the Middle East or Africa use the southern border as an entry point into the US. However, the spotlight is usually placed on people of Latin American origin, mainly from Mexico and Central American countries that have long faced sectarian violence, social unrest, gangs and armed conflicts that, oftentimes, can be led back to what some critics claim is United States interventionism. Whatever the case is, the truth is that the American continent is experiencing a humanitarian crisis and governments will need to cooperate to ease human suffering and make asylum seeking processes more bearable. 

Most people whose families have been separated by the United States federal government remain silent in their powerlessness. After all, who would legally fight one of the most powerful countries in the world, right? Well, the answer lies in a Guatemalan couple that is actually suing the federal government in an effort to keep the family together. 

Maudy Constanza is an asylum seeker living in Massachusetts, her partner and son were ordered to remain in Mexico so they are suing.

Credit: Jonathan Wiggs / Boston Globe

The lawsuit claims that Trump’s asylum policy violates constitutional due process and does not guarantee equal rights. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts in federal court in Boston last week.

The suit reads: “United States law protects asylum seekers like Ms. Constanza, Mr. Morales, and their children. The law forbids sending people to countries where they will be persecuted or tortured, and provides migrants with an opportunity to see an immigration judge before they may be sent to a place where they fear such persecution or torture.”

We have to remember that Guatemala lives unprecedented levels of violence and that the increasing flow of Central American migrants to Mexico has made them vulnerable as many individuals in the host country have perpetrated acts of violence and racism. 

Hanz Morales, Constanza’s partner, was shot four times in his home country of Guatemala, where criminality indexes are surging.

Guatemala is definitely not a safe place for Hanz Morales, and he fears for his life. The couple fled to Mexico with their three young children. They separated before crossing the United States border in July 2019. The Boston Globe details the ordeal that they escaped: “Hanz was a successful small business owner in a town 100 miles or so outside Guatemala City. Last year he witnessed a violent crime, during which he was shot. The family spent a year in hiding trying to evade the individuals who shot him, until they decided to move to the United States and seek asylum.” The rule of law not always holds true in Guatemala and other Latin American countries, so it was flee or die for the family. 

Constanza and her two daughters were allowed to stay in the United States, Morales and their 9-year-old son were sent back to Mexico, where unofficial refugee camps are dangerous and unsanitary.

Credit: Eric Gay / Getty

Morales and his son are among the approximately 50,000 individuals from Spanish-speaking countries that have been sent to Mexico to wait out their migration court process. This puts them in an extremely vulnerable situation and an economy of corrupt officials and lawyers, who take advantage of them, has sprouted in cities such as Reynosa and Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas.

As Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, told The Boston Globe: “In Matamoros, we now have what’s been called the worst refugee camp in the world.”

As the Associated Press reports, Morales and his son have experienced a hell on Earth while waiting in Mexico: “Morales and his son have survived an attempted kidnapping, struggled to find food and rarely leave their home because of the violent and dangerous conditions near the border, according to the ACLU. The organization wants a federal judge to declare the asylum policy unlawful and allow Morales and his son to await the outcome of their case in the U.S. with the rest of their family.” The ACLU has started similar processes in the Californian cities of San Diego and San Francisco. 

A Venezuelan Man Won Legal Protection From Deportation But ICE Still Deported Him To Mexico

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A Venezuelan Man Won Legal Protection From Deportation But ICE Still Deported Him To Mexico

Department of Homeland Security / ICE

Jesus spent three months awaiting his immigration case in Mexico thanks to the Migrant Protections Protocol (MPP) policy. “Remain in Mexico” is a fate that has left many migrants targets of cartel violence, but Jesus was a fortunate exception. After fleeing from Venezuela, then waiting in Mexico, he was able to win his court case without a lawyer and without being fluent in English. 

The judge granted him withholding of removal which would normally protect a migrant from deportation. Jesus seemed to have scored a win or at least that was how it seemed. Soon after, he was taken back to Mexico with no explanation as to what was happening. 

NPR featured Jesus’ story which proved to be a cascade of unanswered questions left by Customs and Border Protection — albeit with a hopeful ending. 

Jesus and immigration lawyers are now scrambling to figure out what is going on.

When Jesus became one of 55,000 migrants forced to await a court date in Mexico for the second time, things began to seem vexingly suspicious. Kennji Kizuka, a lawyer with Human Rights First, took on Jesus’ case after his win in court. 

“The proceedings in immigration court were finished. There were no more hearings to be held,” said Kizuka.

Kizuka told NPR that immigration officials put a false court date on Jesus’ paperwork, however, the date did not appear on any court docket. The court date is significant because migrants can only return to Mexico if they have a pending court appointment. 

“They put a fake date on a piece of paper that says you have an upcoming hearing. And there was no hearing,” Kizuka said. “They wanted to return him to Mexico again, and they needed to convince the Mexican officials to take him back.” 

CBP appears to be sending mixed signals to migrants. 

A spokesperson from CBP told NPR that they do not use fake court dates and said the date was legitimate. CBP also says that migrants who are granted a withholding of removal protection can still be deported if authorities are considering appealing the judge’s ruling. NPR found 17 instances where migrants who were granted the same protections were deported. 

“When an immigration judge’s decision is appealed or under consideration for appeal, immigration proceedings remain underway,” a CBP spokesman said.

However, Kizuka believes the documents that CBP gave to Jesus contained numerous false statements asserting that he had pending court dates when he does not. The government did not choose to appeal’s Jesus’ case either. To make matters more confusing. Acting Commissioner of CBP Mark Morgan says migrants who have won their cases should be able to stay in the U.S. 

“I don’t think that should be happening,” Morgan told NPR with regard to Jesus’ case. “If that’s happened the way you described that, then that’s an anomaly. It’s a mistake. But we’ll take a look at that.”

Jesus scores a second win — but it won’t help other migrants necessarily. 

Kizuka met Jesus in-person to help get him back into the United States using the judge’s court order. They were met with resistance. 

“They told us that Jesus was not going to be allowed into the United States,” Kizuka said. “One officer told me that by going back to Mexico, his deportation had already been carried out.”

Kizuka did not give up. He argued at the border for four hours. He had other staff members call the Department of Homeland Security. He had them call members of Congress. He contacted anyone who could help. Finally, they gave in with no explanation. 

Jesus is now living in Florida with his sister and mother. The three of them are fighting to receive asylum and become citizens. However, Jesus’ story highlights how much luck is necessary for any migrant to get the system to work properly for them even if they act lawfully throughout the process. 

In Venezuela, Jesus was a police officer but when government officials asked him to arrest members of the opposition party for crimes they did not commit, he refused. His family became targets of violence, resulting in the murder of his father. 

“They started to persecute me and my family,” he said. “They killed my father. My mother was followed. She was threatened with a pistol and beatings.”

When he was held in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico he narrowly escaped kidnappings and violence, much of which he witnessed himself. Jesus is content in Florida but he did not feel he was treated with dignity on his way to getting there. 

“I hoped the treatment would be warmer, more humane,” Jesus said. “But the officials are really harsh and insulting to migrants. And the system is really complicated.”