A 16-year-old migrant boy has died in US custody

  • A 16-year-old migrant boy who arrived in the US unaccompanied has died in government custody, the Department of Health and Services said Wednesday.
  • The boy was placed in a shelter for migrant children on April 20, and did not indicate any “health concerns,” a spokeswoman said. But he was brought by ambulance to a hospital within days, and died on April 30.
  • Two other young children, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, previously died in US custody in December 2018.
  • The deaths come amid a surge in migrant families arriving in the US to seek asylum. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan warned last month that another death was “just a matter of time.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

A 16-year-old migrant boy died in US government custody on Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services told INSIDER in a statement.

The boy’s death, which was first reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News, occurred less than two weeks after he was transferred into the shelter system for unaccompanied migrant children, which is overseen by HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. It’s unclear exactly when he arrived in the US.

HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement the child did not indicate any “health concerns” when he arrived in a Texas shelter on April 20. Clinicians working with the Customs and Border Protection agency also did not observe any concerns when they were transferring him from Border Patrol custody into ORR custody, she said.

But on April 21, the child “became noticeably ill including fever, chills, and a headache,” according to Stauffer. He was brought to a hospital emergency room that morning, treated, and sent back to the shelter later that day.

When the child’s health had not improved by the next day, an ambulance took him to a different hospital, which transferred him to a children’s hospital in Texas. He spent several days in the intensive care unit, before dying on April 30.

Read more: ‘We’ve seen this coming’: Why migrant children are dying in Border Patrol custody

The boy has not yet been identified, but Stauffer said his brother, who presumably resides in the US, and Guatemalan consular officials visited him while he was in the hospital.

“The family who resides in the home country received frequent updates from hospital staff,” she said. She added that his death is being investigated, as per government policy.

The boy is the third immigrant child to die in US custody in recent months. Two other young children – seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo – died in December 2018, shortly after crossing the US-Mexico border and being detained.

The deaths come amid a surge in migrant families entering the US to seek asylum. Homeland Security officials have lamented the inadequate resources at Border Patrol facilities to accommodate the influx of families, many of whom arrive with young children and some of whom are already ill.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan even told reporters at a press conference last month that he feared another in-custody death was looming.

“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy,” McAleenan said. “But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”

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