Cartoon by Christopher Weyant

‘A Breaking Point’: Second Child’s Death Prompts New Procedures for Border Agency

The New York Times: A Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas Eve while in United States custody was moved among at least four crowded facilities at the border over the six days from his apprehension until his death.

That chronology, provided by government officials, underscores how stretched the facilities and their staff are in handling the surge of Central American families reaching the southwest border, particularly minors.

Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, acknowledged on Wednesday that the “dramatic increase” had pushed the system to “a breaking point.”

She said she had ordered her agency to bolster medical screenings of children at the southwest border and had enlisted the medical corps of the United States Coast Guard to assist. The secretary also said that she would travel to the border this week to personally observe the screenings.

“Moving forward, all children will receive a more thorough hands-on assessment at the earliest possible time post-apprehension — whether or not the accompanying adult has asked for one,” Ms. Nielsen said in a statement.

Most of the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death remain unknown. It is not clear whether his health deteriorated because of neglect by personnel in the facilities, the perilous journey, or a combination of these factors.

“This crisis is exacerbated by the increase in persons who are entering our custody suffering from severe respiratory illnesses or exhibit some other illness upon apprehension,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Given the remote locations of their illegal crossing and the lack of resources, it is even more difficult for our personnel to be first responders.”

The secretary placed the blame on an immigration system that she said rewarded parents for sending their children to cross the border alone and brought few consequences for parents who bring their children with them into the country. “Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders,” she said. “Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north.”

She said that until the two deaths, of the 8-year-old Guatemalan boy late on Dec. 24 and a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl earlier this month, it had been more than a decade since a child had died in custody at the border.

Democratic lawmakers pushed back on Wednesday. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker-designate of the House, deemed the death of two children in United States custody “unconscionable” and called on Congress to investigate.

Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said, “There is no question that the system is not working.” Mr. Thompson said he would immediately call department officials to testify after he takes up the committee gavel in January.

The boy, who had entered the United States with his father, was identified by Guatemalan authorities as Felipe Gomez Alonso. Nearly three weeks earlier, Jakelin Caal Maquin, also traveling with her father, died in Border Patrol custody.

Some 2,100 migrants have been arriving daily at the southwest border. All told, nearly 60 percent of them are families and minors traveling alone. Last month, federal agents arrested a record 25,172 families, most of whom were fleeing violence and poverty.

After the two deaths and amid an apparent spread of illnesses, American officials have requested the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate a spike in the number of migrants arriving sick at the border.

“We’re doing dozens of hospital trips every day with children that have fevers or manifest other medical conditions,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency responsible for detaining and processing the arriving migrants >>>