A top Customs and Border Protection official claimed Thursday that he was “very confident in the data that CBP has reported with respect to deaths in CBP custody.” But if that’s the case, why did it take the Trump administration eight months to publicly disclose that a 10-year-old Salvadoran girl had died while in U.S. custody?
CBS News reported on Wednesday that the child, whose name has not yet been publicly released, died in September while in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. An official from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the ORR, claimed “that the girl had a history of congenital heart defects,” and that, "following a surgical procedure, complications left the child in a comatose state.” She died in a children’s hospital on September 29.
Officials, though, did not disclose her death under U.S. watch for months, reporting it only after two children, 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernández and a 2-year-old boy whose name has not been released, died this month after being taken into U.S. custody. The ORR, unlike Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “has no legal requirement to make a public report about an in-custody death,” Pacific Standard magazine reports, “but ORR's internal policies do require that the agency notify ‘appropriate Federal, State, and local authorities’ and the child's parents or next of kin, as well as the consulate of the child's home country.”
It’s unclear if the former happened, but the latter certainly did not, in a violation of the office’s own policy. “Manuel Castillo, Consulate General of El Salvador in Aurora, told CBS News his office had no knowledge of the girl's death. Castillo said the office was caught off guard by the news, and was hoping CBS News report would help him track down the family. Castillo said concerned local residents called him, saying, ‘We can't let this happen again.’”
Following the news of this child’s death, advocates have every reason to ask if there are more deaths that the Trump administration has kept dark. "It is unacceptable that the nation is hearing about this tragedy for the first time eight months after her death,” said Families Belong Together chair Jess Morales Rocketto, “and it raises serious questions about how many other migrant children’s deaths the Trump administration either doesn't know about, doesn't care about, or is sweeping under the rug.”
Would officials still have kept her death hidden if five children hadn’t died after being taken into U.S. custody since December? Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was rightfully suspicious. "I have not seen any indication that the Trump administration disclosed the death of this young girl to the public or even to Congress,” he said. “And if that's the case, they covered up her death for eight months, even though we were actively asking the question about whether any child had died or been seriously injured. We began asking that question last fall."
Children do not belong in detention, period, and the inhumane conditions that migrants are detained in are actively contributing to their deaths. When they have waited eight months to release information on the tragedy of a child’s death under U.S. watch, how can anyone trust administration officials when they claim they’re being transparent? "How many children are there that we don't know about?” Morales Rocketto continued. “President Trump and his administration has their blood on his hands. Congress must investigate this nefarious pattern of tragic deaths immediately."