- The Department of Homeland Security has requested help from the Coast Guard, CDC, and Department of Defence to provide medical care to detained migrant children.
- The move comes after an 8-year-old migrant boy died in custody on December 24, after he was detained in various Border Patrol holding facilities for nearly a week.
- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she has ordered medical checks on all migrant children in custody, though it’s unknown how many are currently detained.
The Department of Homeland Security has asked the US Coast Guard, the Department of Defence, and the Centres for Disease Control to help provide healthcare to migrant children in its custody after an 8-year-old boy died on Monday.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that she has requested the CDC “investigate the uptick in sick children crossing our borders,” the Coast Guard review the current medical programs migrants receive, and that the Pentagon provide medical support staff.
Nielsen said she’s also visiting the border this week to see first-hand what the Border Patrol stations and medical screenings look like.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said in an earlier statement that it’s “considering options for surge medical assistance” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The move comes after the deaths of two young children in Border Patrol custody this month. Guatemalan authorities identified the 8-year-old boy as Felipe Gómez Alonzo, and a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl named Jakelin Caal Maquin reportedly died on December 8.
Both children were arrested with their fathers while crossing the US-Mexico border, before being detained in holding facilities. In Alonzo’s case, he was detained by Border Patrol at multiple facilities for nearly a full week, according to a CBP timeline.
The timeline said Border Patrol agents first noticed Alonzo was ill on the morning of December 24, and brought him to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a cold, given a prescription antibiotic, and sent back to the holding facility.
Later that evening, when Alonzo became ill again, they moved him back to the hospital where he died shortly before midnight, according to the CBP timeline.
In her statement on Wednesday, Nielsen blamed the surge in migrant families and children crossing the US-Mexico border, and pleaded that migrant parents not bring or send their children to the US.
“Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders. Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north,” Nielsen said. “I once again ask – beg – parents to not place their children at risk by taking a dangerous journey north.
In the wake of Alonzo’s death, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan ordered medical checks on all migrant children in custody, according to the CBP statement. The statement went on to say that the agency is reviewing its policies on detaining children younger than 10 – particularly when they’re held in custody beyond 24 hours.
In a previous statement on Tuesday, the agency also said it notified Congress of the death, following a newly implemented policy to flag in-custody deaths to lawmakers, the US media, and foreign embassies within 24 hours.
Trump administration under scrutiny for deaths
The Trump administration has been heavily criticised for the deaths, with immigration advocates arguing that Border Patrol should not be holding young children in custody – and especially not for extended periods of time.
“This is a horrific tragedy. CBP must be held accountable and stopped from jailing children,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted on Tuesday. “The next Congress should make an investigation into [the Department of Homeland Security] one of its first items on the agenda.”
CBP has defended itself against much of the criticism by noting that a surge in migrant families and unaccompanied children arriving in the US are overwhelming the Border Patrol holding facilities and causing a backlog in the shelter system and long-term detention centres.
But top Trump officials have even acknowledged in recent weeks that the Border Patrol stations were built to temporarily house adults for processing, not to detain children.
“DHS has continued to see a dramatic increase in unaccompanied children and family units arriving at our borders illegally or without authorization,” CBP said in its Tuesday statement. “Consistent with existing law, these individuals are held at federal facilities pending their removal or release into the interior of the United States with a notice to appear at a court hearing.”
- Read more of INSIDER’s immigration coverage:
- Trump tweeted a design for ‘steel slats’ along the border with spikes on top – and called it ‘totally effective while at the same time beautiful’
- Trump reportedly thinks referring to the border wall as ‘steel slats’ will get more Democrats to agree to fund it
- Migrant father contradicts US officials, says his 7-year-old daughter who died in Border Patrol custody was given no water for 8 hours
- ICE wrongly flagged an American citizen to be deported, so a Florida sheriff’s department detained him for weeks. Now he’s suing.
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