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A Migrant Teen Died In Border Patrol Custody After Being Detained For A Week

The 16-year-old had been in the custody of Border Patrol for a week.

Last updated on May 20, 2019, at 10:50 p.m. ET

Posted on May 20, 2019, at 12:49 p.m. ET

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Migrants cross the US–Mexico border at the Rio Grande River on May 19.

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died Monday after being detained for a week by US Border Patrol agents in Texas.

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez is the fifth Guatemalan minor to die after being apprehended at the southern border since December, officials said. Four have died in US custody, while one died in a hospital.

Hernandez was apprehended on May 13 after crossing the border without authorization near Hidalgo, Texas. The teen was transferred from a processing center to a Border Patrol station and was set for placement in a shelter for migrant youth when on Sunday he told staff that he wasn't feeling well. A contracted nurse practitioner determined he had the flu and Border Patrol agents went to a local pharmacy to pick up medication, a CBP official told reporters.

Hernandez was then transferred to a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. On Monday, he was found unresponsive. The cause of death was not known and the case is under review, officials said. While Hernandez wasn’t hospitalized after he was diagnosed with the flu, the CBP official said the decision was left up to medical care providers.

Guatemala's foreign ministry said Hernandez was from Baja Verapaz, an area north of Guatemala City, and was hoping to reunite with family who was already in the US. Ministry officials warned parents not to endanger the lives of their children by sending them on an "irregular" journey to the US border.

The death comes as the Trump administration continues to confront the increase of migrant families and unaccompanied children crossing the border. In early April, the government division responsible for unaccompanied migrant children, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said it was on track to detain the most children in its history. Meanwhile, last month, almost 100,000 families crossed the border, according to border officials.

Border Patrol can legally hold unaccompanied minors for up to 72 hours. Asked why Hernandez was held beyond that period, a CBP official said that ultimately ORR decides who they can take based on available space.

“The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are saddened by the tragic loss of this young man and our condolences are with his family,” said John Sanders, acting CBP commissioner. “CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody.”

In a speech in El Paso in March, then–CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that the border had reached a “breaking point."

At the time, McAleenan, now acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said his agents were trying to prevent a “tragedy” at their facilities — but predicted that the high number of migrants and medical issues that it was only a “matter of time."

In recent weeks, a 2-year-old boy from Guatemala who was detained by US agents at the border died, and a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy also died in government custody in Texas.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, told BuzzFeed News that his office would be demanding answers.

"The gross inadequacy of the so-called ‘welfare checks’ is patently obvious, and now five children have lost their lives as the price. I want to see specific plans from the administration to provide real medical checks, including checking vitals, on every child who comes into our government’s custody," he said. "We need urgency, and we need answers, not excuses.”

Astrid Dominguez, director for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said the latest CBP in-custody death was appalling. The ACLU filed a complaint last week regarding the conditions of migrants detained in Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley facilities, where Hernandez was held.

"We’ve received complaints from migrants about inhumane conditions, prolonged detention, lack of shelter, poor medical attention and abuse from agents," Dominguez said in a statement. "We need more than an investigation, children ought to be protected. CBP needs to hire child welfare and medical professionals to humanely receive and process all arriving families.”

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