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Two Children Died In Border Patrol Custody And New Report Says Government Wasn’t At Fault

In 2018, seven undocumented children died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Seven may not seem like a lot, especially if you consider that thousands attempt to cross the southern border. However, the number is startling high when you take into consideration that previously to 2018, not one undocumented child had died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the past ten years. While some died due to health issues, people claim the deaths could have been prevented. Some of these deaths were investigated after there was a national outcry over the treatment of children in ICE and border custody. 

After the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General completed its investigation and found no wrongdoing on the part of border patrol officials. 

Last year, the public was horrified to hear of the passing of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died soon after crossing the border with her father in an attempt to seek asylum. Jakelin and her dad crossed the border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. As soon as the border patrol apprehended the pair, Jakelin’s dad requested medical help. Still, instead of taking her to a hospital right away, officials took her to another location, and her symptoms worsened after that. She soon went into cardiac arrest. Border Patrol EMT attempted to revive her twice. She was then airlifted to a hospital in El Paso where she ultimately succumbed to her symptoms.

Initially, government officials claimed that her father had been traveling with the young girl for days without water, but he disputed that. Her father claimed that his daughter “was fed and had sufficient water” during their journey from Guatemala to the U.S./ Mexico border. Furthermore, then Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan — who became Secretary of Homeland Security for a brief period (he resigned in October) — failed to notify Congress that Jakelin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez had died on his watch, which is required by law. 

The brief announcement by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) stated that the investigation “found no misconduct or malfeasance by DHS personnel.”

In regards to the death of Jakelin, the “OIG conducted a detailed investigation and coordinated with the local medical examiner’s office,” the press release statement read. “The state medical examiner’s autopsy report found the child died of natural causes due to sequelae of Streptococcal sepsis.” That is the cause of death medical officials had originally released. 

The death of 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez occurred just days after Jakelin passed away. Medical officials said he had an upper respiratory infection. He was given medication and then later released. But his condition did not improve, and he died on Christmas Eve 2018. 

Both deaths sparked outrage from the public and immigration advocates. As news of their deaths was reported in the media, it appeared as if border officials were not treating undocumented adults and children with the care and dignity they deserved.

“What is CBP doing to fulfill its border security mission but not treat children and families as threats who have to be incarcerated and kept from treatment and trauma-informed counseling that they need?” Chris Rickerd, a lawyer with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said to ABC News in December 2018.

The OIG report stated, in regards to 8-year-old Felipe, that after his condition got worse, the border patrol took him and his father to the hospital. That is where Felipe became unresponsive and was pronounced dead.

The “OIG conducted a detailed investigation and coordinated with the local medical examiner’s office,” the reported read. “The state medical examiner’s autopsy report found the child died from sepsis caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.”

While the OIG investigation said that the Border Patrol was not at fault, American doctors have long said that the conditions in which undocumented people are held in by the border patrol and ICE custody are unsanitary. They also said they need proper medical care. 

Earlier this month, several doctors protested the conditions at detention centers and demanded that undocumented people get flu vaccinations. 

“I’ve never had to fight so hard to give a vaccination to anyone, any patient, any population of patients who have needed it the most,” Dr. Bonnie Arzuaga told The Washington Post. “As a physician, I’m saddened by the stance our government has taken to deny basic preventative medicine to the people it is holding in its custody.”

It is unclear if the OIG is investigating the cases of the other children that died while in border patrol and ICE custody.

READ: The Family Of 7-Year-Old Jakelin Caal Maquin Is Disputing The Official Account Of Her Death

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.”