When 16-year-old Guatemalan immigrant Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez was diagnosed with the flu at the Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas, he should have been properly cared for but instead, he was sent to a holding cell in nearby Weslaco, where he was found dead the next day. This happened on May 20 of this year and now ProPublica released a report after seeing video footage of his last hours in the cell revealing how Border Patrol neglected to care for his declining health.
Carlos Hernandez Vasquez, 16, lay motionless on his Border Patrol cell floor for more than 4 hours. An agent logged three welfare checks, but no one helped him as he died of the flu. My investigation with Susan Schmidt and @mrym_jml for @propublica. 1/ https://t.co/sq1Zd104sY
— Bob Moore (@BobMooreNews) December 5, 2019
The video footage reportedly shows him writhing for at least 25 minutes on the floor and a concrete bench and he then moved to the toilet before collapsing on the floor, where he remained for nearly five hours in a pool of blood before agents arrived. Among the numerous mistakes ProPublica reported, a pivotal misstep according to independent medical experts they consulted was sending Carlos to a holding cell instead of a hospital.
“Why is a teenaged boy in a jail facility at all if he is sick with a transmissible illness? Why isn’t he at a hospital or at a home or clinic where he can get a warm bed, fluids, supervised attention and medical care? He is not a criminal,” Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist told the publication. “No one should die this way: vomiting, with a fever and without the comfort of a caregiver.”
The agency held Carlos at McAllen for six days, though the agency is supposed to transfer children within 72 hours. But because he came at the peak of a surge where 144,000 migrants were apprehended that month, it seems protocol was not always followed.
Carlos was the sixth migrant child to die after being detained while entering the U.S. in less than a year. Carlos was the only one to die at a Border Patrol station and in the previous decade, no migrant child had died in custody, the publication reports.
After Carlos’ death, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general reported that a third of the 2,800 unaccompanied minors in CBP custody in the Rio Grande Valley (including where Carlos had been detained) had been there longer than 72 hours. According to ProPublica, border patrol centers were designed to temporarily hold migrants and were not set up for long-term detention, which typically includes medical staff to treat ill detainees.
The video footage obtained by ProPublica — which is not being released to the public — shows a gap of about four hours which according to the report would be when BP agents would’ve checked on Carlos. According to BP logs, they checked on him hourly but the publication reports that his agony was apparent therefore hard to miss but according to their source, no one entered the room. Carlos’ cellmate discovered his body and called an agent and paramedics declared him dead after one attempt at chest compression though rigor mortis had reportedly already set in since he’d been dead for hours at that point.
The Guatemalan government brought Carlos’ body home to his village of San Jose del Rodeo, home to indigenous Maya, to news coverage with the embassy calling for a thorough investigation of his death by the U.S. His former soccer teammates carried his casket down the long road to the cemetery with thousands of mourners following. His family questioned how he died when he had left in good health alongside his older sister for the journey north while his teammates spoke during his funeral saying during his short life he “touched hearts.”
“If you have an animal that’s sick and you’ve kept it in a room, every little while you’re going to go check on it, see if it has water, whether it’s shivering. That’s with an animal. And this was a human being,” Jose Morales Pereira, Carlos’ teacher, told ProPublica, believing he had been abandoned in his cell.