Sixteen-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez died next to a toilet, alone, in an immigration detention cell. In video reviewed as part of his autopsy, Texas Monthly reports, the boy “is seen lying on the floor, vomiting on the floor, and walks over to the commode, where he sits and later lies back and expires.” His May death makes him the fifth child to die after being taken into U.S. custody since December.
Carlos crossed the border on May 13 and had been detained at the Rio Grande Valley Sector's Central Processing Center for nearly a week—in violation of the 72-hour limit imposed by law—when he began to feel sick. ”That day, a nurse practitioner found that he had a 103-degree fever, and he tested positive for the flu. He was prescribed Tamiflu and transferred to the Border Patrol station at Weslaco. Hernandez died the next morning,” when he was found by officers.
His autopsy concluded that he “succumbed to the flu, complicated by pneumonia and sepsis, on or near the toilet of his South Texas Border Patrol cell.” Texas Monthly notes that Border Patrol apparently never made an effort to hospitalize the boy when he became sick, in fact moving him to Weslaco even though a bed had reportedly been designated for him by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where kids are supposed to be transferred from Border Patrol custody.
The deaths of migrant children after being taken into U.S. custody have been unprecedented, because “before December, no child had died in Border Patrol custody in a decade.” Seven-year-old Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin’s autopsy found that she died of streptococcal sepsis in December. That same month, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died of the flu and “a rapid, progressive infection that led to organ failure,” his autopsy report said.
In May, Wilmer Josue Ramirez Vasquez had been held in Border Patrol custody for several days but became so sick he had to be hospitalized, Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson wrote at the time, eventually dying in the hospital from “multiple intestinal and respiratory infectious diseases.” According to an El Paso County medical examiner’s office report, Wilmer had influenza, parasites, and E. coli bacteria. He was just two and a half years old.
But migrant children have also died outside of Border Patrol custody. In April, 16-year-old Juan de León Gutiérrez became sick while in ORR custody after crossing to the U.S. alone. He “was treated for several days at a Corpus Christi hospital before he died,” Texas Monthly said. “The Nueces County medical examiner said no autopsy was performed because Gutierrez was not in custody at the time of his death and died of natural causes.”
Ten-year-old Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle died while in ORR custody, with an official from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the ORR, claiming “that the girl had a history of congenital heart defects,” and that, "following a surgical procedure, complications left the child in a comatose state.” But the Trump administration failed to publicly disclose her death for eight months, reporting her Sept. 29 death only after Carlos and Wilmer’s deaths.
Children have also died after going into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Last May, nearly 2-year-old Mariee Juárez died in a hospital, several weeks after becoming sick in the agency’s custody at the South Texas Family Residential Center, a migrant family jail in Texas. In testimony to Congress this month, her mom Yazmin said she watched Mariee become “limp and hot,” with ICE releasing them only after the child’s condition had deteriorated.
“A veteran forensic pathologist who reviewed Hernandez’s autopsy,” Texas Monthly continued, “as well as the three other autopsies available for migrant children who died in custody, said she was alarmed at the conditions the children were kept in.” Dr. Judy Melinek said, “In my opinion, there needs to be a public health audit of the policies and conditions in these migrant camps and a forensic review of all migrant deaths.”
These children came to the U.S. for safety and new lives—some coming here all by themselves—and our nation failed to provide them safety, dignity, or compassion. The conditions in places similar to where they were jailed have not improved, with kids saying they’re still going hungry, still being abused by officers, and still shivering in freezing cells, meaning that more kids may lose their lives. Remember Carlos. Remember Jakelin. Remember Felipe. Remember Wilmer. Remember Juan. Remember Darlyn. Remember Mariee.