Things That Matter

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

ICE Detention Centers Are Allegedly Using Dangerous Disinfectants That Cause Burns And Bleeding

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ICE Detention Centers Are Allegedly Using Dangerous Disinfectants That Cause Burns And Bleeding

Chris Carlson / Getty

As soon as the Coronavirus pandemic began to ravage the globe, ICE detainees and migrant rights groups have all worried about a potentially devastating outbreak inside ICE detention centers.

And in fact, dozens of migrants have become infected with the virus while in ICE custody – and so far two men have died. Despite this, ICE still refuses to mass release detainees to ensure their safety and well-being. Instead, ICE has doubled down on migrant detention amid a global pandemic and they are using potentially deadly chemicals to ensure a sanitized environment.

Immigrant detainees say ICE is using Coronavirus disinfectant sprays that cause bleeding, burns and pain.

Credit: David McNew / Getty

Two immigrant advocacy organizations have filed a complaint against ICE detention centers ran by the GEO Group, alleging that the center is using a Covid-19 disinfectant on the facility over 50 times per day.

The spray the center is allegedly using is called HDQ Neutral. On the bottle, according to detainees, it says “that it can cause ‘irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Avoid breathing in. Do not get in eyes or on skin. Wear goggles and face shields. Wash thoroughly after using.”

According to the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants, the disinfectant is being used inside un-ventilated areas – causing direct danger to detainees. In fact, the company that manufactures HDQ Neutral – Spartan Chemical – warns that it is harmful and can cause skin burns and serious injuries when inhaled.

Several groups of migrants have spoken out about the harm and danger they’re facing.

Detainees who have been interviewed by the migrant rights organizations have said that many migrants have become severely ill, with at least nine requiring medical attention since May 11. One detainee told Insider, “When I blow my nose, blood comes out. They are treating us like animals. One person fainted and was taken out, I don’t know what happened to them. There is no fresh air.”

According to another detained migrant, the guards have started spraying the chemical everywhere, all over surfaces that are used by detainees, all the time.

Another inmate said he started profusely bleeding after coming into contact with the bathroom, which an official sprayed with disinfectant. They said the official told them it was HDQ Neutral. 

GEO Group Inc. — the company that runs the detention center — has also come under fire for not doing enough to protect detainees from Covid-19 infection.

Credit: Chris Carlson / Getty

The GEO Group, which runs many of ICE’s detention centers, has frequently come under fire for its treatment of detainees. In fact, the Adelanto Detention Center – where several have complained about the chemicals use – has previously had complained filed against it and its staff.

Throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, GEO facilities have been criticized for not taking the spread of the novel coronavirus seriously — leading to a massive number of COVID-19 cases among those imprisoned 

And in New York City, where GEO Group runs the city’s only private prison, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez tweeted her outrage at the conditions of the facility where at least 38 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Conditions at these detention centers are so poor that this man contracted #COVID19 TWICE,” Velázquez tweeted. “These institutions are not a safe place for inmates or those detained. We need compassionate release of vulnerable populations who present no public safety risk.”

News of the incidents have started circulating on social media and people are demanding action.

Thousands have taken to social media to share their outrage and demand action. Some have even likened the poor ventilation and exposure to toxic chemicals to the gas chambers used to kills Jews, homosexuals, and other targeted groups during the Holocaust.

The immigration detention centers have also been frequently called concentration camps, especially after a wave of unaccompanied minors from Central America arrived in the US in the summer of 2018. Many of them were swiftly locked in detention facilities, shocking the world with images of small children locked in cages. 

A Change.org petition has gathered more than 250,000 signatures demanding ICE stop using the dangerous chemicals.

People are also demanding action. A Change.org petition has more than 259,000 signatures demanding that the facilities immediately stop using the dangerous chemicals.

For their part, ICE has responded saying it’s “committed to maintaining the highest facility standards of cleanliness and sanitation, safe work practices, and control of hazardous substances and equipment to ensure the environmental health and safety of detainees, staff, volunteers and contractors from injury and illness.”

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

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

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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.”