Nielsen Will Travel to Border to Review Deaths of Migrant Kids

(Bloomberg) -- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will travel to the U.S. border with Mexico to personally review her department’s care of migrant children, after a Guatemalan boy died on Christmas Eve after he was apprehended by Customs and Border Protection.

The 8-year-old was the second young migrant to die in the agency’s custody this month. It’s been more than a decade since a child died in CBP custody, a Department of Homeland Security official told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

“This tragedy, the death of a child in government custody, is deeply concerning and heartbreaking,” Nielsen in a statement. “Moving forward, all children will receive a more thorough hands-on assessment at the earliest possible time post-apprehension -- whether or not the accompanying adult has asked for one.”

Nielsen Will Travel to Border to Review Deaths of Migrant Kids

Border authorities have recently seen more sick migrants crossing into the U.S., DHS officials said on the call. They asked not to be identified discussing the issue. Six people in total died in CBP’s custody in fiscal 2018, and the agency transfers dozens of people a day to hospitals, one of the officials said.

None of the six who died last year were children, Nielsen said in her statement. The 2019 fiscal year began in October.

Earlier this month, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died while in U.S. custody.

Nielsen said that in the past two months, 139,817 migrants have been apprehended on the U.S.’s southwest border -- an 86 percent increase over the 74,946 apprehended during the same time period last year.

CBP ordered new medical tests on all children it’s holding after the boy’s death, the agency said in a statement earlier on Wednesday. The directive will mean secondary medical checks on children in the agency’s care, including unaccompanied minors and those who arrive as part of a family unit, Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in the statement. He said the order will focus on children under 10.

The boy’s cause of death wasn’t known, CBP said earlier. In the updated statement, they offered new details on the boy’s final days.

According to a timeline issued by the agency, the boy was apprehended on Dec. 18 at about 1 p.m. with his father 3.29 miles west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry near El Paso for illegal entry. They were detained, then transported to the entry point at about 4:39 p.m., the agency said in its statement.

At that facility the two received hot food, juice, snacks and water along with six “welfare checks,” the agency said. On Dec. 20, they were transferred to the El Paso Border Patrol Station and provided with showers, food and water and received 17 status checks through Dec. 22, the agency said.

They arrived at the Alamogordo, New Mexico, border station late on Dec. 22, where they were transferred for final processing. At about 9 a.m. on Dec. 24 an agent found the child coughing with glassy eyes and he was taken to a hospital where he was prescribed antibiotics and ibuprofen. He later appeared lethargic and was returned to the hospital due to a lack of emergency medical technicians in a CBP facility. He died at the hospital.

The officials said CBP didn’t violate a court order that generally prohibits the agency from detaining children longer than 72 hours because the boy was with his father. The order only applies to unaccompanied children, the officials said.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and the Guatemalan government have been notified of the death, CBP said.

The border patrol agency is also considering seeking “surge” medical assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, and potentially requesting more aid from the Department of Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Health and Human Services to assist the U.S. Border Patrol with supplemental medical capabilities, according to the statement.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.