UPDATE: Teen who died at Weslaco Border Patrol station identified

5th migrant child to die in CBP custody since December

The Weslaco Border Patrol Station on Monday, May 20, 2019. Border Patrol agents found a 16-year-old male unresponsive Monday morning. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Updated at 3:54 p.m.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials confirmed the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan national who died Monday at its Weslaco station, according to an agency statement.

The teenager, identified Monday afternoon as Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, was detained May 13 near Hidalgo, and transferred from the Rio Grande Valley sector’s main processing center in McAllen to the U.S. Border Patrol station in Weslaco on Sunday.

Hernandez-Vasquez was due to be placed with Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, but was kept at the Weslaco station after it was determined he was not feeling well, according to CBP officials.

CBP officials also said Hernandez-Vasquez let agents know on May 19 he wasn’t feeling well, which prompted medical staff to diagnose him with influenza.

Agents subsequently purchased Tamiflu from a local pharmacy for Hernandez-Vasquez. The following day, Hernandez-Vasquez was found unresponsive during a welfare check.

“The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are saddened by the tragic loss of this young man and our condolences are with his family. CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody,” Acting CBP Commissioner John P. Sanders said.

CBP said that the teenager’s cause of death is not known at this time. Consistent with CBP policy, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility has initiated a review. The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General has been notified. The Guatemalan government has also been notified, and CBP informed members of Congress, consistent with CBP’s Interim Procedures on Notification of a Death in Custody.

“It is appalling that children continue to die on U.S. Border Patrol’s watch,” Astrid Dominguez, director for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said in a statement following news of Hernandez-Vasquez’s death. “Keeping children in custody goes against our American values. We’ve demanded that the Trump Administration change its inhumane detention practices to prevent tragic deaths from happening. Instead, we’ve received complaints from migrants about inhumane conditions, prolonged detention, lack of shelter, poor medical attention and abuse from agents.”

Her remarks Monday came after the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU Border Rights Center filed a complaint with DHS alleging the mistreatment of migrants detained at Border Patrol facilities in the Valley.

“This agency is long overdue for reform,” Dominguez said in the statement. “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.”

Last week, a 2-year-old child from Guatemala died after being detained by Border Patrol agents. He was the fourth minor child to die while in CBP custody.

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.

In December 2018, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquín died of a bacterial infection, while Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, died on Christmas Eve.

In addition to the five minor children who have died while in U.S. custody, two adults have died since December.

Earlier in the year, CBP confirmed the death of a 40-year-old Mexican national at an El Paso hospital on March 18, which was days after he was apprehended attempting to re-enter the country illegally, a CBP news release stated.

On Feb. 18, a 45-year-old Mexican national died at a McAllen hospital two weeks after he was apprehended near Roma.

Local Border Patrol officials said they would not comment further on the custodial death.

During recent stops in the Valley, Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has said the safety and well-being of migrants in the care of CBP and Border Patrol are high priorities.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to report new information about the teen’s identity and a statement from the ACLU.

Previous coverage

Complaint filed on behalf of asylum seekers at RGV detention facilities