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8-year-old migrant boy died after a week in Border Patrol custody

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The eight-year-old migrant boy who died in Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve was detained for nearly a full week, against the agency’s own rules, Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

Guatemalan authorities have identified the boy as Felipe Gómez Alonzo, who was arrested with his father, Agustin Gomez, on December 18. The child died late on December 24, after being transferred between three different holding facilities and eventually a hospital.

The agency’s own rules state that “detainees should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in CBP hold rooms or holding facilities,” and that “every effort must be made to hold detainees for the least amount of time required for their processing, transfer, release, or repatriation as appropriate and as operationally feasible.”

But despite that rule, CBP has reportedly been detaining hundreds of children at Border Patrol stations for longer than 72 hours for months.

Read more: An 8-year-old Guatemalan child died on Christmas Eve while in Border Patrol custody, agency says

Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation.
Getty Images/John Moore

The agency has often cited its struggles with handling both an influx in families with young children crossing the US-Mexico border, and a backlogged system for placing children in longer-term shelters.

“DHS has continued to see a dramatic increase in unaccompanied children and family units arriving at our borders illegally or without authorization,” CBP said on Tuesday. “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.”

CBP is reviewing its policies on detaining children after Alonzo’s death

In response to Alonzo’s death, CBP said it will review its policies on detaining children younger than 10 years old, particularly when they are in custody for longer than 24 hours.

“This is a tragic loss. On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a statement.

According to CBP’s timeline of Alonzo’s death, agents first noticed on the morning of December 24 that the boy was coughing and “appeared to have glossy eyes.” Within half an hour, agents had begun transferring the boy and his father to a New Mexico hospital, where staff diagnosed him with a cold and gave him Tylenol.

Read more: The 7-year-old migrant girl who died in Border Patrol custody received medical care 90 minutes after first showing symptoms

Jakelin, the 7-year-old girl who died in US custody after crossing illegally from Mexico in December.
Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez

When staff evaluated Alonzo for release, they found he had a 103-degree fever and held him for observation, before releasing him around 3 p.m. with a prescription for amoxicillin, an antibiotic, and the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.

Border Patrol agents gave Alonzo the medicine around 5 p.m., and by 7 p.m., he began vomiting, according to CBP. Though Alonzo’s father apparently declined further medical help, Alonzo became “lethargic and nauseous again” by 11 p.m. that night, prompting Border Patrol agents to return Alonzo and his father to the hospital.

CBP said the child vomited again and lost consciousness in the ride to the hospital, and died at 11:48 p.m. on December 24.

Alonzo is the second young child to die in Border Patrol custody in December. A seven-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, died on December 8, shortly after she and her father were arrested while illegally crossing the border in a remote area of the desert in New Mexico.

A CBP timeline showed she had not been able to access emergency medical care until roughly 90 minutes after she first began showing symptoms.

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