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Detained, Abused and Denied Medical Care: How Trump Immigration Policies Led to Child Deaths at Border

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AA 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. custody Monday after spending a week in immigration jail. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez was found dead at a Border Patrol station at Weslaco, Texas, just one day after being diagnosed with the flu. He was not hospitalized. This marks the fifth death of a Guatemalan child apprehended by Border Patrol since December. Before last year, it had been more than a decade since a child died in the custody of U.S. immigration officials. We speak with Fernando Garcia, the founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, an advocacy organization based in El Paso, and Jennifer Harbury, a longtime human rights lawyer based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today's show with yet another tragedy on the U.S.-Mexico border, where a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. custody Monday after spending a week in immigration jail. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died at a Border Patrol station at Weslaco, Texas, after being diagnosed with the flu. He was not hospitalized. This marks the fifth death of a Guatemalan child apprehended by Border Patrol since December. Before last year, it had been more than a decade since a child died in the custody of U.S. immigration officials.

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AMY GOODMAN: Carlos Hernandez was arrested near the border in the South Rio Grande Valley May 13th and taken to a processing center in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of migrants are held in large pens and forced to sleep on mats. U.S. law typically requires minors to be sent to facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained, but Carlos was held in McAllen for more than double that time. On Sunday, six days after he was first arrested, he reportedly was diagnosed with the flu after telling Border Patrol agents he was sick. Rather than hospitalize the 16-year-old, officials prescribed him Tamiflu and transferred him to another Border Patrol station in Weslaco. He was found dead the next morning.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The teenager's death comes less than a week after a 2-and-a-half-year-old boy, whose family was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso in April, died on May 14th, after spending weeks in the hospital with pneumonia and a high fever.

Two weeks before that, another 16-year-old, Juan de León Gutie'rrez, died after being apprehended by Border Patrol agents near El Paso. The Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said Gutie'rrez died of complications from an infection in his brain's frontal lobe.

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The spate of migrant child deaths began in December, when 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died of a bacterial infection after being in Border Patrol custody. Soon after that, an 8-year-old boy, Felipe Gómez Alonzo, died of a flu infection while in Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the humanitarian crisis, we're joined by two guests. Here in New York, Fernando Garcia is with us, the founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, an advocacy group based in El Paso. And in Weslaco, Texas, we're joined by Jennifer Harbury on the telephone. She's a longtime human rights lawyer based in the Rio Grande Valley, along the U.S.-Mexico border, an activist with the Angry Tias.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jennifer has a long history in Guatemala, as well. But let's begin with Fernando Garcia. Your response to this latest death, the death of Carlos, which follows the death of a 2-and-a-half-year-old, which follows, which follows, which follows?

FERNANDO GARCIA: Well, thanks for having me. I mean, these are -- it's important to say that these are not circumstantial deaths. I mean, migrants are dying -- children are dying -- because of the way that the U.S. administration, the Trump administration, is treating these refugees and asylum seekers. And it's not circumstantial, because we had five deaths since December, but also in the whole year we had another one that happened in last May. So we have six children dying while in detention.

The conditions that we had documented in detentions are horrific conditions. This is not the America that we know. I mean, we had children sleeping on the ground in the dirt, with no access to water and medical attention, very limited medication and healthcare. I think we have a human rights crisis -- not only a humanitarian crisis, a human rights crisis -- because, at the end of the day, the borders define the nation, the character of the nation, and what we have today, it is that children are dying because of U.S. strategies.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Fernando, I wanted to read to you what the acting Customs and Border [Protection] commissioner, John Sanders, said in a statement. He said, quote, "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. CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody." Your response to his statement?

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FERNANDO GARCIA: You know, that is sure to be cynic. I mean, the situation on the ground doesn't reflect what they are saying in this statement. They are showing a complete disregard of the lives and the rights of immigrants and refugees. Let's remind ourselves, many of these families, many of these children are fleeing violent conditions in the country, economic depression, looking for a better life. And what they had found, it is, in this case, children dying at the border. And again, what we have documented is gross human rights violations in these detention centers.

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