Toddler detained at US-Mexico border dies in El Paso hospital

Boy is 4th to have died after journey to US

By David Shortell and Ed Lavandera, CNN
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Central American migrants wait to be taken into custody after crossing into the United States from Mexico on Feb. 1, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.

(CNN) - A 2-year-old boy from Guatemala died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, this week over a month after being apprehended by US immigration authorities as he crossed the border with his mother, the Guatemalan Consulate said Thursday.

The boy, who was not identified and was not in US custody at the time of his death on Tuesday, had suffered from complications of pneumonia, Tekandi Paniagua, the Guatemalan consul general in Del Rio, Texas, told CNN.

The boy is the fourth child known to have died after journeying to the US in recent months from Guatemala, where poor economic conditions have driven record numbers of migrants to the US. The death was first reported by The Washington Post.

In April alone, the Border Patrol arrested 98,977 migrants for illegal entry, many of whom were families -- an increase from the month before. Migrants from Central America often make the journey through Mexico under punishing conditions and with limited food and water.

Immigration officials have noted a recent increase in illnesses in migrants arriving in the US, and advocates have argued that conditions at US holding facilities can be unsafe.

The boy was encountered by Border Patrol agents on April 3 near the Paso Del Norte Bridge, which connects the border towns of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso across the Rio Grande, according to a Customs and Border Protection official familiar with the case.

On April 6, the boy's mother advised agents that her son was ill, according to the border protection official, and the child was transported that day to a hospital in Horizon City, Texas, by EMS.

Paniagua said the child was showing a high fever and had difficulty breathing. He was moved to another hospital in El Paso the next day, the border protection official said.

On April 8, the child and mother were provided an NTA, or "notice to appear" in court documents, the official said, and the family was released on their own recognizance at the hospital, meaning they were no longer in border patrol custody.

The young boy was detained just days after Kevin McAleenan, then the head of CBP, warned at a news conference by the border in El Paso that the "potential for a tragic incident" during a border crossing or in overwhelmed agency facilities is "clear and present."

"This stark and increasing shift to more vulnerable populations, combined with the overwhelming numbers, and inadequate capacity to detain families and children at ICE and Health and Human Services, respectively, is creating a humanitarian crisis," said McAleenan, now the acting Homeland Security secretary.

The deaths of two young Guatemalans in December spurred congressional hearings and new procedures from DHS and CBP. Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died of sepsis, a bacterial infection, in an El Paso hospital in December, two days after she and her father were detained. Weeks later, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died of flu complicated by sepsis while in Customs and Border Protection custody.

Late last month, 16-year-old Juan de León Gutiérrez died in a Texas children's hospital days after arriving at an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter. The cause of his death hasn't been reported, though a source close to the situation said at the time that he showed signs of distress the day after he arrived at Casa Padre, a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas.

Immigration authorities have since ordered an increase of medical checks for children in their custody, with a focus on children under 10.

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