- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Border officials begged for medical help from the Coast Guard and the Pentagon to screen illegal immigrants and asked American and Mexican disease specialists to investigate a surge of sick migrants caught at the border after another illegal immigrant child died in U.S. custody.

Every juvenile currently held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection is being rechecked for health issues, and a review of CBP procedures is underway, authorities said after the death on Christmas Eve.

This one involved an 8-year-old boy who jumped the border with his father on Dec. 18. They had been shuttled to four CBP facilities and one hospital in the six days before the boy’s death.

CBP said more than two dozen “welfare checks” were performed during those six days and it wasn’t until the final day that the boy showed any problems. He was treated at a hospital and released just hours before falling ill again, and he died soon after he was readmitted.

“This is a tragic loss,” CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in a statement late Tuesday. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the family.”

The death has fueled an already raging debate over CBP’s handling of the surge of illegal immigrant families that is straining Homeland Security’s abilities. Democrats in Congress and immigrant rights activists across the country have said the blood of children is on the government’s hands and insist that bad policies and poor attitudes have contributed to the deaths.

SEE ALSO: Second Guatemalan child dies in DHS custody after illegal border journey

A 7-year-old girl arrived at the border this month in remote New Mexico with her father, and it took some time to get her to a processing facility. En route, she began vomiting and then stopped breathing. Agents managed to revive her twice, but she died a day later at a hospital after suffering liver and respiratory failure and a heart attack.

Administration officials say a long, rough journey through Mexico must have compromised the girl’s health and she was in U.S. custody for mere hours.

The latest case is tougher to wave away.

Guatemalan officials said Tuesday that the father insisted the boy was healthy when they arrived and were arrested as part of a group of migrants just west of El Paso, Texas, in the early afternoon of Dec. 18.

Homeland Security officials, though, said they have seen a rise in the number of ill migrants crossing the border and that “dozens of people a day” in Border Patrol facilities need medical treatment.

“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

She said she has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look into the cases and has asked Mexican authorities to investigate shelters south of the border where migrants from Central America hole up while waiting for the OK from smugglers to attempt to cross.

Homeland Security officials said those shelters are likely causes of the spread of disease.

In the case of the boy who died this week, authorities said they spotted signs of flu and took him to a hospital, where he was tested for strep throat. A common cold was diagnosed, and the boy was given Tylenol. While being held for observation, he ran a fever of 103 degrees. Amoxicillin and ibuprofen were prescribed, and the boy was released.

He later vomited, but his father refused more medical attention and said the boy’s health was improving. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent said the boy had “glossy eyes.” While he was being transported back to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, he vomited again and lost consciousness, officials said.

He was declared dead a little more than 40 minutes later.

Congressional Democrats vowed to investigate when they take control of the House next year.

“It is incumbent upon Congress to ask serious questions about what happened and who bears responsibility,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who is poised to become majority leader.

An internal CBP review is underway for the deaths of the girl and the boy this month, and the Homeland Security inspector general has announced an investigation into the girl’s death.

A Homeland Security official said deaths of children in CBP custody are rare and that none had been reported for a decade.

Officials suggested that the problem lay south of the border. Smugglers are encouraging a surge of migrants — particularly families with young children — to make the trip from Central America to the U.S. The migrants are convinced they can take advantage of lax policies to gain an illegal foothold in the U.S.

“Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders. Smugglers, traffickers and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north,” Ms. Nielsen said.

Department officials said they have been pleading with Congress to change laws to cut down on abuses of the asylum process and to allow illegal immigrant families to be held in detention, which would make it easier to deport them.

If Central Americans fail to enter the U.S., then relatives and neighbors would be discouraged from making the trip, the government hopes.

The Obama administration took the same approach in 2014 and 2015 to deal with a surge of families, but it has drawn far more outrage this time.

A Homeland Security official who briefed reporters Wednesday — but would not allow himself to be identified — said it’s time for action.

“We have been sounding the alarm on this for months, and we’ve been seeking additional support, action, from Congress and the courts to deal with this. We have yet to see that assistance,” the official said. “We have been doing all we can under our authorities to handle this strain.”

The department released a timeline of events in the latest death beginning with the early-afternoon arrest Dec. 18 as part of a group of migrants snared just west of the El Paso border crossing.

The migrants were kept in the field for more than three hours, said CBP, blaming the difficulty of finding transportation.

By late afternoon, the migrants were at an initial processing center, where they were given food and water and were kept for two days. They were transported to another CBP facility, where they stayed for another two nights.

Between those two locations, they were given 23 welfare checks. During these checks, agents give visual examinations and ask whether the migrants need anything or whether anything is wrong.

On Sunday, because of overcrowding at the El Paso facility, the group of migrants was transported to a facility in New Mexico. On Monday — six days after the arrests — CBP contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a more permanent placement.

Just hours later on the morning of Christmas Eve, an agent noticed the boy coughing and reported that he had “glossy eyes.” Half an hour later, the boy was taken to a hospital for a flu check.

After his release in the middle of the afternoon, the boy was sent to a temporary facility at a Border Patrol checkpoint, where he had a meal and was given a dose of the medications.

At 7 p.m., still at the checkpoint, the boy vomited. Agents cleaned up the vomit but said the father refused further medical assistance.

At 10 p.m., the child was observed to be lethargic. Because no agent on duty had emergency medical skills, the boy was taken back to the hospital. He vomited and lost consciousness in the hour between the emergence of his condition and his arrival at the hospital. He was pronounced dead about 40 minutes after arrival.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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