A 16-year-old migrant boy from Guatemala traveling without his parents has died in Texas after being held in U.S. custody, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.
It is the third death of an undocumented minor in government custody since last fall as the U.S. faces an unprecedented influx of families and children arriving at the Mexico border.
U.S. officials have declined to identify the boy or the shelter where he was held for one night before being sent to the emergency room with “fever, chills and a headache.” The teen was eventually transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas where his brother and Guatemalan consular officials were allowed to visit.
“Following several days of intensive care, the minor passed away at the hospital on April 30,” according to a statement released by HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer.
Bacterial infections were to blame for the deaths of two other young migrants in U.S. custody last December, according to those autopsy reports. Those children – 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo – were both traveling with their fathers from Guatemala and fell ill while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The older teen who died Tuesday would have been one of some 12,650 children and teens in HHS custody, referred to as “unaccompanied alien children” because they arrive at the border without guardians. These are typically older children and teens who traveled in large groups with other migrants in the hopes of eventually being placed with other relatives already living in the United States.
The massive influx of unaccompanied minors in recent months has put a big strain on the government, which has had to turn to privately run shelters to care for the children. The White House on Tuesday said it needs another $4.5 billion to handle the surge of undocumented migrants at the border, with $2.8 billion of that amount going toward providing shelter to unaccompanied children and teens.
Tornillo, a tent camp in Texas that at one point housed some 2,800 migrant teens, closed earlier this year, while another shelter — Homestead in Florida — has since ballooned to some 2,200 minors.
Since the deaths of the two younger migrant children, Jakelin and Felipe, U.S. authorities have said they’ve ordered additional medical personnel to remote parts of the border and stepped up screenings of young children that enter into government custody.
According to HHS, the 16-year-old boy who died was transferred into its custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 20 with “no health concerns” observed. The next morning, “the minor became noticeably ill including fever, chills and a headache” and was brought to a hospital emergency department. That hospital treated him and released him later that day.
“The minor’s health did not improve after being transferred back to the shelter so on the morning of April 22, 2019, the minor was taken to another hospital emergency department via ambulance,” Stauffer said. “Later that day the minor was transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas and was treated for several days in the hospital’s intensive care unit” before dying on April 30.
The “family who resides in the home country received frequent updates from hospital staff,” Stauffer said.