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Border Patrol to ask federal agencies for help with migrant children

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The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is weighing asking other federal agencies to help provide healthcare to migrant children in its custody after an 8-year-old boy died on Monday.

The agency said in a statement that it’s “considering options for surge medical assistance” from the Department of Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The statement added that CBP is already working with the Centers for Disease Control to determine how many children are detained.

The move comes after the deaths of two young children in Border Patrol custody this month. Guatemalan authorities identified the 8-year-old boy as Felipe Gómez Alonzo, and a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl named Jakelin Caal Maquin reportedly died on December 8.

Both children were arrested with their fathers while crossing the US-Mexico border, before being detained in holding facilities. In Alonzo’s case, he was detained by Border Patrol at multiple facilities for nearly a full week, according to a CBP timeline.

Read more: The 8-year-old migrant boy who died on Christmas Eve was held in US custody for nearly a week — against Border Patrol’s own rules

The timeline said Border Patrol agents first noticed Alonzo was ill on the morning of December 24, and brought him to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a cold, given a prescription antibiotic, and sent back to the holding facility. Later that evening, when Alonzo became ill again, they moved him back to the hospital where he died shortly before midnight, according to the CBP timeline.

In this Jan. 4, 2016 file photo, a US Border Patrol agent drives near the US-Mexico border fence in Santa Teresa, N.M.
Associated Press/Russell Contreras

In the wake of Alonzo’s death, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan ordered medical checks on all migrant children in custody, according to the CBP statement. The statement went on to say that the agency is reviewing its policies on detaining children younger than 10 — particularly when they’re held in custody beyond 24 hours.

In a previous statement on Tuesday, the agency also said it notified Congress of the death, following a newly implemented policy to flag in-custody deaths to lawmakers, the US media, and foreign embassies within 24 hours.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also intends to visit the border to review the facilities migrant children are kept in, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

Trump administration under scrutiny for deaths

The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for the deaths, with immigration advocates arguing that Border Patrol should not be holding young children in custody — and especially not for extended periods of time.

“This is a horrific tragedy. CBP must be held accountable and stopped from jailing children,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted on Tuesday. “The next Congress should make an investigation into [the Department of Homeland Security] one of its first items on the agenda.”

CBP has defended itself against much of the criticism by noting that a surge in migrant families and unaccompanied children arriving in the US are overwhelming the Border Patrol holding facilities and causing a backlog in the shelter system and long-term detention centers.

But top Trump officials have even acknowledged in recent weeks that the Border Patrol stations were built to temporarily house adults for processing, not to detain children.

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

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