U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday another immigrant child died while in U.S. custody, marking the third such death in approximately five months.
According to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which falls under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, a 16-year-old unaccompanied Guatemalan boy died on April 21, after being apprehended by immigration officials on April 20.
Evelyn Stauffer, a spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families, stated that the boy did not divulge any health issues when he was taken into custody. His name has not yet been released to the public.
“On the morning of April 21, 2019 the minor became noticeably ill including fever, chills and a headache,” Stauffer said, adding that the boy was transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas after initially being admitted to and released from a separate hospital’s emergency room earlier that day.
The boy’s death is the third such death of an immigrant child in U.S. custody since December of 2018. Seven-year-old Jackeline Caal died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in early December after going without food and water for multiple days. And on Christmas Eve, eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died of the flu, which he developed roughly a week after he and his father, Agustin Gomez, were apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border.
The rate of immigrant children dying in U.S. custody over a period of several months is abnormally high for ORR. According to CBS News, only two other immigrant children have died in custody dating back to 2015. And prior to that, only three children died dating back to ORR’s inception in 1980.
These recent deaths could potentially be attributed to the Trump administration’s harsh enforcement of immigration laws and its unique approach to dealing with asylum seekers. New photos recently tweeted by Human Rights Watch researcher Clara Long suggest that the Trump administration is expanding immigrant detention centers along the Southern border.
.@planetlabs Satellite imagery released by @hrw shows rapid increase in @CBPgov detention facilities for families and children on the border in Texas, rather than investment in a true humanitarian response. https://t.co/e31TrBpIxx pic.twitter.com/gKrkYXJnkB
— Clara Long (@clarychka) May 1, 2019
This is in accordance with the administration’s policy of choosing to detain asylum seekers while their applications are being processed, as opposed to allowing them to live amongst the U.S. population while their asylum status is pending, as is required under international law. In 2018, a federal judge ruled that Trump has to process asylum applications on a case-by-case basis, rather than the administration’s blanket approach of detaining asylum seekers as a matter of course.
There is decidedly less space for detainees under this policy than before, resulting in questionable practices of detaining immigrants. As Grit Post reported in March, several hundred immigrants were kept under a bridge in El Paso, Texas — many of them for as many as four days — because the nearby detention center was already filled to capacity.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.