- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2019

The death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan illegal immigrant in Border Patrol custody on Monday raised the stakes for border security in Congress, where lawmakers are trying to figure out whether to give President Trump some of the $4.5 billion in emergency money he’s demanding to help deal with the migrant surge.

The teen, identified as Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, was caught sneaking into the country as part of a group of more than 70 people on May 13 and was in Border Patrol custody for a week — more than twice as long as the law allows.

His illness was diagnosed as the flu Sunday, he was prescribed Tamiflu and he was discovered unresponsive Monday morning. Efforts to revive him failed. Illnesses are a major danger at the border detention facilities, which have become overcrowded as children and families surge north in record numbers, drawn to the U.S. by lax enforcement policies.

A government official said they had been trying to get the teen placed with the federal Health and Human Services Department, as the law requires, but an equally overwhelmed HHS wasn’t able to immediately place the boy in one of its shelters.

President Trump, reacting to the news, blamed Democrats for inviting the surge of vulnerable people.

“The border is a dangerous place. It’s only made that way because the Democrats will not approve any legislation,” he said. “I mean, they don’t want to approve anything. And it’s making the border very dangerous.”

One piece of legislation Mr. Trump has asked for is $4.5 billion to ease the border crush.

That includes $2.8 billion for HHS to provide more capacity for unaccompanied alien children such as Carlos. The request also asked for $1.1 billion for Homeland Security, with nearly $400 million going to build new shelters and to provide food and medical assistance for the surge of migrants.

The other money was going toward enforcement operations — though none of it would build Mr. Trump’s border wall.

Democrats, after months of questioning the extent of the border crisis, now acknowledge the need for some action.

“What is happening at the border is tragic, and we hope to address some of that in the supplemental that is coming,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer weighed in Monday, saying Democrats have sent a counteroffer. It doesn’t give Republicans everything Mr. Trump asked for, but it is a start.

“Some are objectionable,” he said.

A House Democratic aide said Democrats agree with the money Mr. Trump wants for HHS to care for illegal immigrant children, and don’t oppose humanitarian assistance money that border authorities say they need to continue caring for the children and families surging into the U.S.

But Democrats did not agree to Mr. Trump’s request for more money to fund detention beds at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Without more money, ICE would have to release thousands of illegal immigrant adults — including some with criminal records — from custody, officials contend.

The White House budget director sent a warning letter to Congress last week alerting lawmakers that HHS is about to run out of money, which could spur more cases like that of Carlos.

Even if Congress does approve the full amount, HHS warned, the rate of illegal immigrant children is so high that it could surpass the “high-end scenario,” leaving the department still deep in the hole.

“I am concerned that the size of the deficiency could grow further, and be closer to the worst-case scenario,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a letter provided to Congress.

HHS currently has about 13,000 beds. Given the surge, it says it needs at least 23,600.

Congressional leaders are trying to figure out how to pass whatever border deal they reach. One attractive option would be to attach the money to another emergency spending request for money to deal with natural disasters, which has been pending for months.

The House approved the money already and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will hold a vote this week.

But there are other moving parts that could complicate that plan, and Mr. Schumer was noncommittal Monday about using the disaster bill as a vehicle for the border money, calling it “extraneous.”

A record number of illegal immigrant families has already stormed the U.S.-Mexico border in the first seven months of the fiscal year, and the rate appears to be increasing, officials said.

The administration says it has no hope of detaining them, given current policy, and its goal is to catch and release as fast as possible. But the numbers are so overwhelming that even that is difficult, since they do still have to fingerprint and run background checks on them, as well as perform health checks.

That has left facilities in western Arizona, southern Texas and the El Paso area — the main destinations for the migrant surge — overwhelmed.

As one solution, CBP announced Monday that it has already opened two more temporary shelters in massive vinyl-sided, climate-controlled tents in Texas.

The shelters can hold up to 500 people and have separate areas for processing migrants, performing medical checkups, washrooms and sleeping areas.

Carlos, the Guatemalan boy who died Monday, was one of those who surged into southern Texas, entering as part of a large group near Hidalgo.

While the cause of his death is not known, a Customs and Border Protection official briefing reporters on Monday said he had not shown any serious health problems until the flu. He also had been checked on an hour before he was found unresponsive Monday.

The FBI is looking into the death, as are the Weslaco Police Department, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Homeland Security’s inspector general.

The boy is the latest in a string of high-profile deaths in CBP custody.

After the initial two deaths in December, the government stepped up medical checks to try to spot issues earlier in the process.

But the surge of illegal immigrants combined with the new duties has put a severe dent in enforcement. Half of Border Patrol agents’ time is now spent baby-sitting migrants rather than out on patrol, officials testified to Congress.

Every day, some 69 illegal immigrants are being taken to hospitals and clinics with serious medical conditions.

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