Another Sick Migrant Dies in Border Patrol Custody in Texas

Another Sick Migrant Dies in Border Patrol Custody in Texas

Originally Appeared in The New York Times.

The port of entry over the Rio Grande River from Mexico to the United States in Roma, Tex.CreditCreditLarry W. Smith/Epa-Efe, via Rex, via Shutterstock, via Larry W. Smith, via Epa-Efe, via Rex, via Shutterstock

By Caitlin Dickerson 

Feb. 18, 2019

A 45-year-old Mexican migrant died on Monday in the custody of United States Customs and Border Protection, an event that was sure to intensify pressure on an agency overwhelmed by record numbers of migrant families crossing the border, while its health and safety standards have come under harsh public scrutiny.

The migrant, who was not identified, had been apprehended on Feb. 2 by the police in Roma, Tex., near a port of entry into the United States, and requested medical attention. He was found to have cirrhosis of the liver and congestive heart failure, the agency said in a statement, and was hospitalized twice while in custody — the second time spending two weeks in the intensive care unit of the McAllen Medical Center. He died there around 9 a.m. Monday.

The death came less than two months after 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo also died in the agency’s custody, in December, amid three straight months of record-breaking numbers of migrant families entering the country. Both had shown symptoms of illness after they were taken into custody along the Southwest border, and their deaths prompted widespread condemnation from members of Congress and the public. The agency soon after announced new medical checks for children, and a temporary infusion of support from other federal agencies, including the Coast Guard and the United States Public Health Service.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, has requested $800 million from Congress to address the influx of migrant children and families, calling it a “humanitarian crisis.” The money would go toward staffing, supplies and enhanced facilities, among other things.

The migrant who died Monday was apprehended alone for “illegal re-entry,” meaning that he had entered the United States without authorization at least once in the past, according to Andrew Meehan, an assistant commissioner with the agency’s Office of Public Affairs.

“This loss of life is tragic,” Mr. Meehan said in a statement. “Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones. C.B.P. remains committed to ensuring the safe and humane treatment of those within the care of our custody.”

Many migrants who cross the Southwest border, hoping either to request asylum or sneak in illicitly, become injured or ill during their journey to the United States, while others arrive in need of care for chronic or longstanding conditions.

The demographics of border crossers have evolved significantly in the last decade, putting a strain on C.B.P.’s resources. Once predominantly single, healthy men from Mexico who could be returned home within a few hours, a majority of current border crossers are Central Americans who cannot be turned back immediately because of legal provisions. Many of them request asylum, assuring an even longer stay in federal custody.

More than 40 percent of migrants apprehended along the Southwest border enter through the Rio Grande Valley, where Roma is, and where local residents have become accustomed to a heavy presence of Border Patrol and newly arrived immigrants. Recently, though, higher numbers of migrants have been crossing in remote areas — in part as a result of harsh policies introduced by the Trump administration — where the lack of resources has been particularly acute.

Encounters with migrants who have come to be in grave danger have also increased, the agency said, including 17 people who had to be rescued on Thursday after becoming stranded or overcome by swift currents as they tried to cross the Rio Grande. The rescues took place near Eagle Pass, Tex., about 200 miles northwest of Roma.

C.B.P.’s Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the death that occurred on Monday, Mr. Meehan, the agency spokesman, said. The office is also reviewing the deaths of the two children that occurred in December. Jakelin Caal Maquin’s father has disputed the agency’s assertion that she had not eaten or had water for several days before they were apprehended.


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