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Without Notifying Anyone, ICE Dumps Hundreds of Migrants at El Paso Bus Station Around Christmas

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection have ordered medical checks on every child in its custody, following the death of two Guatemalan children in recent weeks. On Christmas Eve, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy named Felipe Gómez Alonso died in New Mexico while in CBP custody. This follows the death of a 7-year-old indigenous Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquín, who died on December 8 -- also in New Mexico -- two days after she and her father presented themselves at the border in a bid for asylum.

Meanwhile, authorities in El Paso, Texas, scrambled over the Christmas holiday to assist hundreds of migrant asylum seekers who were dropped off suddenly by ICE officials outside a Greyhound bus terminal without any plan to house them. We speak with Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, an El Paso-based charity that assists migrants.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: U.S. Customs and Border Protection have ordered medical checks on every child in its custody, following the death of two Guatemalan children in recent weeks. On Christmas Eve, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy named Felipe Gómez Alonso died in New Mexico while in CBP custody. The child was admitted to a hospital earlier on Christmas Eve, diagnosed with a common cold, given ibuprofen and antibiotics, and released. But the boy continued to become more ill throughout the day. After he began vomiting, the boy was sent back to the same hospital but fell unconscious along the way. He was pronounced dead 12 minutes before Christmas. The cause of death is not yet known. The boy was first detained along with his father on December 18th after they crossed the border west of El Paso, Texas.

This follows the death of a 7-year-old indigenous Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquín, who died on December 8th -- also in New Mexico -- two days after she and her father presented themselves at the border in a bid for asylum. On Christmas Day, about 150 people gathered for her funeral in the impoverished Guatemalan mountain village of San Antonio Secortez.

AMY GOODMAN: In more immigration news, authorities in El Paso, Texas, scrambled over the Christmas holiday to assist hundreds of migrant asylum seekers who were dumped suddenly by ICE officials outside a Greyhound bus terminal without any plan to house them. Local shelters say they weren't told in advance of ICE's plans, as is customary, leaving them struggling to find accommodations for hundreds of migrants, including young children. On Sunday, Greyhound brought in buses where migrants could shelter overnight into the Christmas Eve holiday. Sergeant Robert Gomez of the El Paso Police Department said, "We weren't going to put 200 people on the streets of El Paso on a cold night. We wouldn't do that," he said. On Wednesday night, immigration authorities released hundreds of more migrants at a downtown El Paso bus station, bringing the number of people released this week to more than 1,000.

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Well, for more, we're going to El Paso, Texas, where we're joined by Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute.

Dylan, welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. Can you explain what's been happening in El Paso? Why are so many hundreds of migrants being dumped at the bus station by ICE?

DYLAN CORBETT: Sure. You know, it's rather confusing, what's been going on. Since the 23rd of December, just a couple days before Christmas, what happened is ICE -- began to release -- effectively, as you say, dump many migrants downtown on a cold night in El Paso. These were migrants who had just come from CBP cells across our border community. And when they were released, they were released confused. They were released hungry. They were tired. They had been in difficult and cramped conditions in cells, Border Patrol cells and CBP cells. And many of them were sick.

Now, it's inexplicable as to why ICE chose to do this. Normally, there's a lot of cooperation between the government and the network of migrant shelters here in El Paso, led by Annunciation House, which does stellar work in providing for the humanitarian needs of migrants who are released into our community. But ICE chose not to do this around the Christmas holiday. On the 23rd, they released 200 people at night. The following day, on Christmas Eve, they released another 200 folks. And then, on Christmas Day, they continued to do it and released 200 folks. Yesterday they suspended that practice, and 500 folks were released into our community, but there was greater collaboration with the network of migrant shelters here in El Paso.

We hope that this isn't something that repeats itself. This has never happened. The only other time that this happened was the week before elections, at the very end of October. So it's hard not to see a political character to this. It's hard not to see that the administration is deliberately trying to foment the image of a crisis at the border. And it, frankly, doesn't exist; it's manufactured in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: So, with this as the backdrop, let's look at the death of two Guatemalan children in three weeks in U.S. custody. This horrific example of Felipe Gómez Alonsohe was the second of the two children -- who on Christmas Eve -- explain what you understand happened. He had come over the border with his dad. He was held by Border Patrol by -- it was just under a week. How did he get sick and die? What is happening? This, of course -- you're in El Paso. He was in New Mexico. He died in an Alamogordo hospital.

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DYLAN CORBETT: Sure. You know, the case of Felipe Alonso Gómez, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas Eve, was chilling to me, because on Christmas Day, when ICE released 200 migrants, all of them were families. All of them were fathers with children or mothers with children. When they released them, those children, off the bus, when they essentially kicked them off the bus into downtown El Paso, one of those kids, who was about 7 or 8 years old, the same age as Felipe Alonso [Gómez], the same age as Jakelin Caal, probably from Guatemala, was feverish and was dehydrated. Thank God nearby there were local fire department -- there was a local fire department, and they were able to offer first aid to that child, and we were able to send him to a hospital in an ambulance.

But these children are being held in conditions -- these families are being held in terrible conditions in CBP and Border Patrol cells, anywhere between four and eight days before they're released into either ICE custody, or, if they're claiming asylum in their families, they're released into our community. The conditions are not good. We're hearing from migrants that they're very cramped conditions, many, many people in small -- in very small cells, people not having the ability to bathe for several days. Food is minimal. Access to the bathroom is minimal. They're telling us that they're not even able to go to the bathroom with any degree of privacy.

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