Photo: Catarina Gomez/AP
On Christmas Eve, an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala, later identified as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. He is the second child to die while being held by CBP this month.
According to the agency, Felipe and his father were apprehended near the border on December 18; after that, they were moved around to a number of border stations. During their weeklong detention, Felipe became increasingly feverish and nauseated, and on December 24, he was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a common cold, given Tylenol and amoxicillin, and then released back into CBP custody. Several hours later, after his symptoms worsened, agents decided to take him back to the hospital. He was pronounced dead soon after arrival.
Felipe’s death comes just weeks after another migrant child, 7-year-old Jakeline Caal, died while being held by CBP, igniting national outrage over the conditions in which migrants are being held. The Department of Homeland Security insists it did everything it could to help the girl — a message it’s echoing once again in response to Felipe’s death.
Below, here’s everything we know so far.
Felipe’s father, Agustin Gomez, said that he and his son had traveled approximately 2,000 miles from their home in Nentón, a village west of Guatemala City, in an interview with the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix. Once in the U.S., the Associated Press reports that the family was planning to settle in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Per a timeline released by CBP, Felipe and his father were apprehended on December 18 for illegal entry in El Paso, Texas, about three miles north of the Paso del Norte port, where they were transferred later that day. Two days later, they were taken to the El Paso Border Patrol Station, and then later to the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station in New Mexico.
On the morning of December 24, a border agent noted that Felipe had “glossy eyes” and was coughing, and he was admitted to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, where he was diagnosed with a common cold and provided with Tylenol. While being evaluated for release a few hours later, the boy was still reportedly running a 103-degree fever, so he was given ibuprofen and amoxicillin, and then released.
Later that evening, Felipe “appeared lethargic and nauseous again,” so agents decided to take the boy and his father back to the hospital, per CBP. On the way to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, Felipe reportedly vomited and lost consciousness; once at the hospital, he was pronounced dead.
Throughout Felipe and his father’s week in detention, CBP maintains that both were provided showers, food, and water, and were given regular welfare checks. As border reporter Bob Moore notes, however, Felipe was held in custody for more than 130 hours — which is nearly twice as long as legally permitted.
While Felipe’s cause of death is yet unknown, doctors told CNN that they believe he should’ve been tested for influenza, as he was showing multiple symptoms of the illness.
“We’re right in the middle of the flu season, and when a patient has respiratory symptoms and fever, we need to think of flu first,” said Dr. Flor Muñoz, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, adding that Felipe’s death “could have been prevented.”
On December 13, U.S. Customs and Border Protection revealed to the Washington Post that a 7-year-old migrant girl, Jakelin Caal, had died in its custody from septic shock, fever, and dehydration. According to reports, officials ignored her father when he reported that she was ill, and she was denied care for an hour-and-a-half. Her fever was later charted at 105.9 degrees, and she had multiple seizures before she died.
Like Felipe, Jakelin was traveling from Guatemala with her father; she also died in the El Paso Border Patrol Sector.
Following Jakelin’s death, Cynthia Pompa of ACLU Border Rights Center released a statement demanding “a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths” — none of which came in time to save Felipe.
On the night of December 25, CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan released a statement in which he promised that CBP will make policy changes and perform medical checks on all of the children in its care, with “particular focus upon care and custody of children under 10 both at intake and beyond 24 hours in custody.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security failed to take any responsibility for what happened to Felipe while he was in custody, instead laying the blame on Congress for alleged inaction, and immigrants-rights groups and cartels for “[encouraging] these groups to enter the country illegally.”
“We have called repeatedly, incessantly and often for Congress and the courts to take action — we are doing all that we can to handle this flood as humanely as possible,” said a Homeland Security official, per the Daily Beast.
Hours after reports of Felipe’s death emerged, the ACLU and the ACLU Border Rights Center condemned the “horrific tragedy” at the hands of CBP, and demanded that the immigration agency be held accountable.
“Another child has died in Border Patrol custody in just one month,” ACLU Border Rights Center tweeted on Tuesday. “CBP’s long history of abuse and cruelty will continue absent robust reforms, transparency, and accountability for the US’s largest law enforcement agency.”
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) echoed the ACLU’s sentiments, but with more focus on CBP’s belated policy changes, which the Texas nonprofit argues should’ve already been “routine.”
This report has been updated.