On April 30, a 16-year-old undocumented child died in government custody less than two weeks after crossing the border in El Paso, Texas. The teen, a native of Guatemala, entered the country on April 19 and was presumed unaccompanied. It’s unclear if the boy had been traveling with family and got separated. The teen got placed at the controversial Southwest Key Casa Padre detention center. The center has been involved in several legal issues including hiring unqualified workers, molestation reports, overcrowding, and a teen runaway case.
According to a BuzzFeed News report, the boy entered the detention center without any signs of illness and was there between the 19th and 20th. All that changed on the following day when the boy showed symptoms of fever, chills and a headache.
“The minor’s health did not improve after being transferred back to the shelter so on the morning of April 22, 2019, the minor was taken to another hospital emergency department via ambulance,” Evelyn Stauffer, a Health and Human Services spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Later that day, the minor was transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas and was treated for several days in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Following several days of intensive care, the minor passed away at the hospital on April 30, 2019.” CNN reports that he also had emergency surgery and was in 24-hour intensive care before succumbing to his illness.
While the boy was labeled as unaccompanied, media reports that his brother and “officials from the Guatemalan consulate” were with the boy at the hospital, they also report that his family in Guatemala were kept abreast of the news. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is investigating the cause of death.
“The Guatemalan government regrets the death of this young Guatemalan and offers its condolences to the family, reiterating that it will be providing the corresponding support in the process of repatriation,” the foreign ministry said, according to CNN.
The teen is the third child to die in government custody. Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old died on Dec. 8, and Felipe Gómez Alonzo died on Dec. 28. While this is the third death of a child in recent months, other undocumented adults have died in immigration custody recently as well.
The government announced that they have tracked a record number of children crossing the border and that they are expecting more in the coming months. They have already begun to construct new tent cities to house the undocumented children.