Second child dies at the border as Trump doubles down on calls to build the wall
A second young child has died after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and being detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a dark note that comes in the midst of a government shutdown spurred along by enduring calls from President Donald Trump to build a border wall.
An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala reportedly died late on Christmas Eve at a hospital in New Mexico after crossing the border, the government said in a statement on Tuesday. Identified as Felipe Gómez Alonzo, the child was reportedly apprehended with his father on December 18 several miles from the Paseo Del Norte point of entry into Texas from Mexico.
According to CBP, the pair were then taken to New Mexico on December 23, where Felipe began to show symptoms of illness. He was taken to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, before being released back to CBP. Officials claim his father declined additional medical assistance and the child’s condition ultimately worsened before he grew gravely ill and ultimately died.
His father, identified as 47-year-old Agustin Gomez, reportedly remains in CBP custody. The family is from Nentón in Guatemala and told the Guatemalan counsel in Phoenix, Arizona that they planned to go to Johnson City, Tennessee. Guatemala’s foreign ministry has called for an investigation into Felipe’s death.
In a statement, CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan called the event a “tragic loss” and vowed health checks on children under its supervision, with an emphasis on those younger than 10 years old.
“On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” said McAleenan.
Felipe’s death comes only a few weeks after the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old from Guatemala. She died shortly after she crossed the border into Texas, a contrast with the second child, who appears to have spent significantly more time in CBP custody.
Xochitl Torres Small, the Democrat who will represent the district that encompasses Alamogordo beginning in January, blasted the child’s death as “inexcusable” and demanded additional medical resources at the border.
“Instead of immediately acting to keep children and all of us safe along our border, this administration forced a government shutdown over a wall,” Torres Small said in a statement.
Prominent Texas Democrats also weighed in. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who will chair the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in January, blasted the Trump administration over the incident and accused the White House of “putting families and children in great danger.” Castro said also that “many questions remain unanswered” about the incident and indicated that it is unknown whether more children may have died in U.S. custody.
El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a possible 2020 presidential contender, also acknowledged the death on Twitter.
“We are very saddened to learn of the death of another child in U.S. custody. We must focus on the wellbeing of these children above any other concern,” O’Rourke wrote.
We are very saddened to learn of the death of another child in U.S. custody. We must focus on the wellbeing of these children above any other concern.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) December 25, 2018
Felipe’s death comes in the midst of a partial government shutdown driven largely by the president’s demands for billions of dollars towards constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The shutdown began at midnight last Friday after Senate lawmakers balked at a House bill including $5 billion for the wall. Approximately a quarter of the government is currently impacted by the shutdown, with more than a third of federal workers affected.
On Tuesday, Trump indicated the shutdown might continue for some time and that he would block any reopening efforts that failed to account for wall funding.
“I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it. I’ll call it whatever they want. But it’s all the same thing. It’s a barrier from people pouring into our country,” the president told reporters.
The White House has not offered a comment on Felipe’s death in U.S. custody. After the death of Jakelin, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the event “very sad” but emphasized that her family “chose to cross illegally.”