CBP orders medical checks for every child after boy's death

December 26, 2018 - 9:15 am
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HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered medical checks on every child in its custody Tuesday after an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died, marking the second death of an immigrant child in the agency's care this month.

The death came during an ongoing dispute over border security and with a partial government shutdown underway over President Donald Trump's request for border wall funding.

The boy, identified by Guatemalan authorities as Felipe Gómez Alonzo, had been in CBP's custody with his father, Agustin Gomez, since Dec. 18. CBP said in a statement late Tuesday that an agent first noticed the boy had a cough and "glossy eyes" at about 9 a.m. Monday. He was eventually hospitalized twice and died just before midnight, the agency said. CBP earlier said that the boy died just after midnight.

CBP said in the statement it needs the help of other government agencies to provide health care. The agency "is considering options for surge medical assistance" from the Coast Guard and may request help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A CBP spokesman could not immediately answer how many children are currently in the agency's custody. But with border crossings surging, CBP processes thousands of children — both alone and with their parents — every month.

Immigration advocates and human rights groups sharply criticized CBP in the wake of Felipe's death. The body of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal , who died earlier this month, was returned this week to her village in Guatemala for burial.

Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the Trump administration's "policies of cruelty toward migrants and asylum-seekers at the border must cease immediately before any more children are harmed."

The White House referred questions about the latest case to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CBP's parent agency. CBP officers and the Border Patrol remain on the job despite the shutdown.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a statement that the child's death was a "tragic loss." The agency said it has notified the DHS inspector general.

CBP issued a timeline of what it said happened before Felipe's death.

Felipe was taken with his father to a hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was diagnosed with a common cold, according to the timeline.

The boy was released just before 3 p.m., about 90 minutes after he had been found to have a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius), CBP said. He was prescribed amoxicillin and ibuprofen, and taken with his father to a holding facility at a highway checkpoint.

At about 7 p.m., agents helped clean up the boy's vomit. CBP said the father "declined further medical assistance" then.

But at about 10 p.m., the boy "appeared lethargic and nauseous again," the agency said, and agents decided to have taken to the hospital. The boy died at 11:48 p.m. Monday, the agency said.