Teen dies at Weslaco Border Patrol station

Reps. Gonzalez, Vela call for inquiry in 16-year-old’s death

McALLEN — While new details have been shared regarding the 16-year-old Guatemalan teen who died last Monday at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Weslaco, the circumstances surrounding the sixth death of a migrant minor in government custody remain a point of concern.

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez died at the facility last Monday morning. The following day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials released a timeline of Hernandez-Vasquez’s detainment, revealing that he spent six full days in custody. Under CBP regulations, the agency must transfer its custody of any migrant, regardless of age, after 72 hours.

CBP’s timeline also shows that Hernandez-Vasquez came to the U.S. without a parent and was detained Monday, May 13, by Border Patrol agents from the McAllen station near Hidalgo.

He was then was sent to the agency’s Central Processing Center, also known as Ursula, where he was processed and given a initial medical screening. The following day, the Guatemalan national was allowed to call his family, CBP officials said.

On Sunday, a family nurse practitioner diagnosed Hernandez-Vasquez with “Flu A+” after he told medical staff he was not feeling well; the nurse then prescribed medicine. Later that day, and because of his recent diagnosis, Hernandez-Vasquez was transferred from the McAllen processing center to the Weslaco station to be separated.

The diagnosis also prompted the cancellation of his transfer to a Florida shelter that’s associated with the Homestead Office of Refugee Resettlement, and was instead approved for transfer to Southwest Keys Casa Padre in Brownsville.

“Multiple welfare checks” had been completed “until 6 a.m.” Monday, at which point Hernandez-Vazquez was found “unresponsive.” CBP officials said medical personnel responded but were unable to save his life.

In statement released last Monday, Astrid Dominguez, director for the American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center decried the conditions for migrants at CBP and Border Patrol facilities and called for “more than an investigation.”

“…We’ve received complaints from migrants about inhumane conditions, prolonged detention, lack of shelter, poor medical attention and abuse from agents,” she said in the statement. “This agency is long overdue for reform. We need more than an investigation, children ought to be protected. CBP needs to hire child welfare and medical professionals to humanely receive and process all arriving families.”

U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, expressed their condolences to Hernandez-Vasquez’s family Tuesday, and asked for the Office of Inspector General to conduct an extensive inquiry into the sixth death of a minor in CBP’s and Border Patrol’s custody in the last year.

“For the U.S. Border Patrol, we say that one death is too many, and Monday’s death is the fifth in the past six months,” the congressmen said in a joint statement, which was released before a CBS News report revealed that a sixth child had died in CBP custody between May and September 2018.

“We must now let the Office of Inspector General conduct a thorough investigation and get to the bottom of this. The U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security must fully cooperate with the inquiry.”

Previous cases

Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquín died of a bacterial infection in December 2018 while Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, died on Christmas Eve. Both children were from Guatemala.

On May 14, a 2-year-old child from Guatemala, died after being detained by Border Patrol agents. The boy, identified as Wilmer Josué Ramírez-Vásquez, died after about a month at a hospital.

Reports show the boy and his mother were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso on April 3. A few days later, the boy’s mother told agents he was sick, which led to him being transferred to a hospital in El Paso. On April 8, the family was given a notice to appear and released, effectively ending their custody under CBP.

He was the fourth minor child to die after being detained by CBP.

In late April, another 16-year-old male died while at a youth detention facility in Texas.

Juan de León Gutiérrez, determined to have a rare condition known as Pott’s puffy tumor, died April 30 after officials noticed he was sick while at the facility. He died after several days at the hospital, HHS officials said.

Last Wednesday evening, CBS News reported that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador had died of fever and respiratory distress while in government custody in 2018. Her death had not previously been reported.

Gonzalez and Vela requested that lawmakers in both the House and Senate begin a special inquiry to assess the conditions within detention and holding facilities run by CBP and Border Patrol.

“This is another casualty of the Trump Administration spending the past three years investing time, money, and manpower into the construction of a wall while neglecting the needs of our region,” their statement reads.

“Instead of providing adequate resources and implementing the procedures necessary to properly and judiciously process asylum seekers, the administration has executed a set of haphazard and punitive policies at the border and in the Western Hemisphere. It is time the Department of Homeland Security take responsibility for their actions and restore integrity to our immigration system.”

Intake temporarily halted

The Central Processing Center in McAllen temporarily suspended the intake of new immigrants last week after officials reported more than 30 people at the facility had been diagnosed with influenza. Intakes were set to resume last Wednesday, CBP officials said.

On Wednesday, CBP officials said they would resume intake after finding that 32 individuals had influenza.

“…Local leadership commenced actions that involved rigorous testing of individuals within the facility to ensure that individuals who had otherwise been provided initial screenings to the juvenile populations, had not become ill while in our custody,” the CBP official said. “…As a result of that review, mostly performed via thermometer testing of subjects detained at the Central Processing Center, the Rio Grande Valley identified 32 individuals that tested positive for Influenza at the Centralized Processing Center.”

Those affected were subsequently moved to two nearby facilities where they could be held in quarantine, isolating them from the rest of the detained population, the CBP official said on a conference call with the media.

“The 32 subjects who tested positive for Influenza, they continue to be tested, the contracted personnel continue to administer the prescribed medicines for each of the individual subjects,” the CBP official said.

The CBP official did not know the age range of those who were diagnosed.

In addition, the CBP official said that not only was the McAllen center cleaned and sterilized, but the stations in Rio Grande City, Falfurrias, Brownsville, Corpus Christi and “several” of the checkpoints where “individuals could be temporarily held.”

CBP enacted the precautions in the wake of Hernandez-Vasquez’s death Monday.

Asked if Hernandez-Vazquez was in contact with any of the 32 persons diagnosed with influenza at the McAllen center, the CBP official said that was part of an ongoing investigation into the teen’s death.

Hernandez-Vazquez was seen by medical staff Sunday and prescribed Tamiflu after a nurse diagnosed him with having influenza A.

CBP officials are also working to ensure agents in contact with migrants in custody have the proper equipment available.