Yesterday, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a sixteen year old Guatemalan boy, died in U.S. Border Patrol custody in Texas after being detained for a week; he is the fifth minor to die in U.S. custody since December. The number of migrants held in ICE custody has now reached 52,398 people, an all-time record.
Hernandez was forced into Border Patrol custody on May 13th and by the following Sunday was diagnosed with the flu. On Monday he was found unresponsive but was not taken to a hospital. The cause of death is unknown and his case is currently under review.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) demanded transparency from Border Patrol, saying “the gross inadequacy of the so-called ‘welfare checks’ is patently obvious, and now five children have lost their lives as the price. I want to see specific plans from the administration to provide real medical checks, including checking vitals, on every child who comes into our government’s custody. We need urgency, and we need answers, not excuses.”
Border Patrol can legally hold minors for up to 72 hours, and it is unclear why Hernandez was held over the legal time limit. Astrid Dominguez, the director for the ACLU Border Rights Center, stated that the ACLU has “received complaints from migrants about inhumane conditions, prolonged detention, lack of shelter, poor medical attention and abuse from agents. 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.”
More migrants, especially families are travelling to the United States as refugees. As of Monday, 998 family units were being held in ICE custody. Just two weeks ago, there were 49,000 migrants in custody compared to the over 52,000 in custody today. Congress gave ICE a capacity limit of 45,000 individuals, a limit that ICE has repeatedly ignored.
Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute stated that “this new record continues ICE’s now historical habit of ignoring congressional limitations on its budget and unilaterally increasing its detention bed space. The fact that ICE has rather brazenly now exceeded 52,000 individuals in custody should raise red flags in Congress. This is a threat to Congress’s power of the purse.”
“This is an avoidable humanitarian crisis manufactured by the Trump administration’s harsh policies, which are driven by the president’s extreme rhetoric and distorted assessments of the migrant population,” stated Kevin Landy, the former head of ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning under President Obama.
Media Resources: Buzzfeed News 5/20/19; 5/21/19