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

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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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Trump Wanted To Torture Migrants By Deploying A Military ‘Heat Ray’ At The Border

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Trump Wanted To Torture Migrants By Deploying A Military ‘Heat Ray’ At The Border

Saul Loeb / Getty Images

It’s no secret that President Trump envisions his far-from-completed border wall as essential in his plan to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. Given previous reports of arming the border with snakes or alligators, it’s obvious that Trump envisions the wall as a punitive source of physical harm as much as a deterrent.

So it should come as little surprise that the president has wanted to deploy military-grade weapons to the border to actually ‘torture’ and ‘maim’ those who try and cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. However, a recent New York Times report goes into further detail on Trump’s ideas and they are, in fact, quite shocking.

The Trump Administration allegedly wanted to deploy a military-style weapon at the border to deter migrants.

Last week, it was reported by the New York Times that in 2018, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) had proposed using non-lethal weapon developed by the military to induce agonizing pain in migrants attempting to cross the border, with the intent to force them to turn back.

Described in overly simplistic terms by the Department of Defense as a “non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system,” the ADS is essentially a pain projector (the Times used the term “heat ray”) that subjects targets to the sensation of “heat felt from opening the door to a hot oven” all over their body. If deployed, the device would essentially make even approaching the U.S.-Mexico border a painful experience. 

So what exactly is the device that Trump and other CBP officials wanted to deploy?

Credit: Paul Richards / Getty Images

Although these ‘heat rays’ may sound like weapons for a made-for-TV villain, they’re actually very real. The U.S. Air Force began developing a weapon decades ago to give soldiers a non-lethal option for dealing with civilian mobs or or riots at overseas military bases.

The truck- or Humvee-mounted Active Denial System can affect multiple persons at range of up to one mile away. It silently emits a very high frequency microwave-like beam that can penetrate clothing and heats water molecules on the surface of the skin to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 C).

The resulting sensation, described as being akin to pressing a hot fluorescent light bulb to the skin, is so intense that within seconds affected persons are reflexively compelled to jump aside or run away. Supposedly the pain dissipates within seconds, though some accounts describe a lingering tingling that can last hours.

Although Trump floated the idea, according to DHS officials it was never considered as part of a border enforcement strategy.

Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

Although Trump and CBP officials mentioned the possibility of deploying ADS, per the Times, the idea was flatly rejected by Kirsten Nielsen, then the secretary of Homeland Security. She allegedly told an aide after the meeting that she would not authorize the use of such a device, and it should never be brought up again in her presence.

However, the idea of using a ‘heat ray’ to torture migrants was at least entertained by some within the agency, likely emboldened by Trump’s increasingly harsh rhetoric against immigrants.

A former DHS officials is the one sounding the alarm on Trump’s alleged plan.

Speaking with The Daily Beast, former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor claimed he’d sat in meetings with the president in which “[Trump] says, ‘We got to do this, this, this, and this,’ all of which are probably impossible, illegal, unethical.” 

Among the things Taylor claims the president suggested are efforts to gas, “maim,” and “pierce the flesh” of migrants attempting to cross into the United States without documentation. At one point, Taylor said, “[Trump] looks over me and he goes, ‘You fucking taking notes?”

Other ideas Trump reportedly floated — such as building a trench around the border and filling it with alligators or snakes — was also shot down, according to the Times.

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