Democratic Senators call for investigation into deaths of detained migrant children

"Unless we truly understand what happened in these tragedies, we cannot fix what went wrong and put the correct policies in place so that it never happens again.”

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Following the deaths of two migrant children detained in federal custody last year, twenty-two U.S. Senators recently called for an investigation not only into the deaths of the two children but also investigating the current conditions of all migrant children detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The senators also expressed the need for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing as another means of addressing this urgent problem.

In a letter addressed to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the senators wrote, “We write today to express strong concern about conditions for children being detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We are especially concerned about the particularly tragic deaths of Jakelin Caal and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, children ages seven and eight who died while in CBP custody. There remain significant questions regarding the chronology of events and the care and services that were provided to these children. We believe it is imperative that your office open an investigation not only into the circumstances of these two tragedies, but into the broader conditions of children being detained by CBP. Unless we truly understand what happened in these tragedies, we cannot fix what went wrong and put the correct policies in place so that it never happens again.”

In December 2018, two Guatemalan children in separate incidents died while in Border Patrol custody. Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal reportedly began having seizures shortly before dying of dehydration, shock, and liver failure. Eight-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died on Christmas Eve after his influenza was misdiagnosed as a common cold.

Signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the letter acknowledged their gratitude that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation. They also expressed the need for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in order to prevent any further deaths of detained migrant children.

“Is there sufficient food, water, blankets, cots, and medical attention available at every CBP facility, including ports-of-entry, border stations, and forward operating bases, how is it made available, and how CBP oversees this to make sure that each office is in full compliance at all times?” the senators asked Dodaro.

They also noted the fact that prior to these two deaths, no child had died in Border Patrol custody for more than a decade. The senators requested to know if conditions had deteriorated to the point where young migrant children are beginning to die in CBP custody again.

The senators added, “In the case of Jakelin Caal, CBP failed to report her death to Congress within twenty-four hours. Please evaluate what caused this failure and how compliance with reporting requirements can be improved.”

As a nation that once accepted migrants, our political leaders are separating families and allowing young children to die for no reason. Although a thorough investigation is required, the Trump administration ultimately remains responsible for the deaths of two children who required proper medical attention while detained under federal custody.

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