Homeland Security officials said Wednesday the agency has stepped up health checks for migrant children and tapped Coast Guard medical personnel to help improve care for sick migrants after an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died in Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve.
Since the boy’s death, which occurred nine hours after he initially was released from a New Mexico hospital, almost all children in Border Patrol custody have received a secondary medical screening, officials said.
“This tragedy, the death of a child in government custody, is deeply concerning and heartbreaking,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, adding that she planned to visit the border later this week to assess medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations.
It was the second time a child died in Customs and Border Protection custody this month and came as the Department of Homeland Security faces growing questions from members of Congress and immigration advocates over the medical treatment of migrant children who cross the border illegally.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D., Texas), incoming chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, identified the boy as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez and called for a congressional probe into his death.
“Many questions remain unanswered, including how many children have died in CBP custody,” Mr. Castro said. “With two deaths that we know about just in the last few weeks, Congress will continue to press the Department of Homeland Security until we get answers to all our questions.”
Homeland Security officials said such deaths are rare, noting that six people died in Border Patrol custody during fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30, and three this fiscal year, including the two children. It had been more than a decade since a child died in Border Patrol custody, Homeland Security said.