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Sixth migrant child dies in custody at US border

Officials say the 10-year-old girl was “medically fragile” when she entered its facility.

A mother from Honduras goes to her two children after Border Patrol agents react to makeshift rafts crossing the Rio Grande River near Eagle Pass, Texas.
A mother from Honduras goes to her two children after Border Patrol agents react to makeshift rafts crossing the Rio Grande River near Eagle Pass, Texas.
Image: Bob Owen via PA Images

THE US GOVERNMENT has acknowledged that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in custody last September, a previously unreported case that brings the number of migrant children known to have died after being detained by border authorities to six.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement said in a statement that the girl entered a facility in San Antonio Texas on 4 March 2018 as a “medically fragile child” with a history of congenital heart defects.

“Following a surgical procedure, complications left the child in a comatose state. She was transported to a nursing facility in Phoenix, Arizona for palliative care in May after release from a San Antonio hospital. 

“On 26 September, she was transferred to an Omaha, NE nursing facility to be closer to her family. On 29 September, the child was transported to Children’s Hospital of Omaha where she passed due to fever and respiratory distress,” HSS spokesperson Mark Weber said in a statement. 

When asked by CNN why the department had not announced the 10-year-old’s death at the time, Weber said that a statement had been prepared at the time of her death but reporting requirements include notifying “appropriate officials” and “media is not part of the list.”

The news comes after a fifth migrant child died on Monday after he was detained by US border agents. 

The 16-year-old Guatemala migrant had been held by immigration authorities for six days — twice as long as federal law generally permits. He was then transferred to another holding facility even after he was diagnosed with the flu.

The teenager, identified by US Customs and Border Protection as Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, was the fifth minor from Guatemala to die after being apprehended by US border agents since December.

On Tuesday, border agents closed their primary facility for processing migrants in South Texas one day after Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez’s death.

In a statement released late Tuesday, US Customs and Border Protection said “a large number” of people in custody at the McAllen, Texas facility had high fevers. The agency says it is working to provide medical treatment to all those with fevers.

Migrants apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley will be held at other locations until the situation is resolved, the agency said.

The processing centre is a converted warehouse that holds hundreds of parents and children at a time in large, fenced-in pens.

Democratic lawmaker, Representative Lauren Underwood, has blamed the Trump administration’s border policies for the deaths of migrant children, an accusation the acting head of the Homeland Security Department called “appalling.”

At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the budget for the department, Underwood questioned Kevin McAleenan about what he knew of the psychological problems migrant children face when they are separated from their parents.

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McAleenan, the head of US Customs and Border Protection, was named to lead the department temporarily following the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Last year, the administration separated more than 2,500 children from parents as part of a policy to prosecute anyone caught crossing into the United States illegally, but that practice was stopped. Border agents are still allowed to separate children at the US-Mexico border if the adult has a criminal history or there is concern for the health and welfare of the children.

Underwood told McAleenan that “at this point, with five children dead and thousands separated, it’s a policy choice being made by this administration, and it’s inhumane.”

McAleenan responded by calling that an “appalling accusation.”

The US government has faced months of scrutiny over its care of children it apprehends at the border. On Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and 23 other Democratic or independent senators asked International Committee of the Red Cross and homeland security’s inspector general to investigate the conditions of facilities.

With reporting from Associated Press 

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Adam Daly

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