WASHINGTON – US authorities reported on Thursday the death last September of a 10-year-old migrant girl while she was being held at a detention center, the sixth known case of a minor dying while in US custody in recent months.
Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber confirmed the girl’s death, which occurred before the deaths of five other migrant children, all of which were reported recently.
He said that the unnamed girl was brought into the Office of Refugee Resettlement facility in San Antonio in March 2018 with congenital cardiac problems.
After experiencing complications during an operation, the girl went into a coma and later was transferred to two hospitals in Arizona and Nebraska, where she died in September 2018, Weber added.
Calling for Congress to immediately investigate the matter, Jess Morales Rocketto, the head of the Families Belong Together immigrant rights group, said: “It is unacceptable that the nation is hearing about this tragedy for the first time eight months after her death and it raises serious questions about how many other migrant children’s deaths the (Donald) Trump administration either doesn’t know about, doesn’t care about or is sweeping under the rug.”
On Monday, US authorities had reported the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vazquez, 16, at the Weslaco Border Patrol Station in Texas six days after he was brought to that detention center.
Hernandez Vazquez was diagnosed with the flu on May 19 and authorities at the station administered Tamiflu, the CBP said.
On May 14, a two-and-a-half-year-old Guatemalan boy died while in Border Patrol custody after being hospitalized and, apparently, developing pneumonia.
Two Guatemalans, ages 7 and 8, died in CBP custody last December and another migrant, 16-year-old Juan de Leon Gutierrez, passed away earlier this month shortly after being placed into a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for dealing with underage asylum-seekers.
In recent months, the northward flow of migrants has increased, most of them families and unaccompanied minors from Central America who are arriving at the US border with Mexico.
US authorities detained 98,977 undocumented migrants on the Mexican border in April, the largest number in the last six months, of whom 8,897 were unaccompanied minors, according to figures released in early May by Customs and Border Protection.
With those detentions, the number of migrants detained on the border since the beginning of Fiscal 2019 on Oct. 1, 2018, now numbers 460,294.
In a related development, lawmakers said Thursday that House Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill that includes a proposal to protect children and women who emigrate from the so-called Northern Triangle: the countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
The bill was drafted by Democrat Norma Torres and Republican Ann Wagner, who said their aim was to protect women and children from the Northern Triangle from gender and sexual violence, as well as abuse, and to ensure that the people who commit such crimes face US justice.
The bill would authorize the Department of State to establish bilateral accords with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to help those migrant children and women.
“We cannot wait for another child to die at our border. We must act now to address the root causes of migration in Central America,” said Torres in a statement.
“I applaud the Foreign Affairs Committee for advancing this important legislation to protect women and children from violence, and I look forward to working to pass this bill into law,” she added.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to the acting head of CBP demanding explanations following the death of the fifth undocumented minor in CBP custody.
“The deaths of five children who had been in CBP care in six months are appalling, and you owe the public an explanation and a full accounting for the causes and circumstances of their deaths,” the Massachusetts lawmaker wrote to John Sanders, the agency’s acting commissioner.
“Children are dying, and CBP must do more to end this string of tragedies,” the senator wrote.