A 16-Year-Old Immigrant Boy Died in US Custody. Officials are Investigating

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A 16-year-old immigrant has died in US custody, days after arriving at an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter.

The boy died Tuesday at a Texas children’s hospital where he had been treated for several days in the intensive care unit, according to a written statement from Evelyn Stauffer, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

“Arrangements were made for the minor’s brother and Guatemalan consular officials to visit the minor while he was hospitalized. The family who resides in the home country received frequent updates from hospital staff,” Stauffer said. “The cause of death is currently under review and, in accordance with standard ORR policies and procedures, the case will be subject to a full review.”

Stauffer’s statement, first reported by BuzzFeed, does not identify the boy, specify when he arrived in the United States, state how long he had been in US custody before entering ORR care or detail the government facilities where he’d been held. He’s described as an “unaccompanied alien child,” the term officials use for migrant children who arrive in the United States without parents or guardians.

His death comes months after the deaths of two other immigrant children who fell ill in government custody: 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, who both died in December in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection.

Those cases spurred sharp criticism from immigrant rights advocates over the care children receive while in custody. They also prompted congressional hearings and a decision by immigration authorities to increase medical checks of children in custody.

The 16-year-old who died this week had been transferred to an ORR shelter on the evening of April 20, Stauffer said. Before his arrival, no health concerns were observed by CBP clinicians, Stauffer said, and he “did not note any health concerns” when he arrived at the shelter. The next day, Stauffer said, the boy became “noticeably ill including fever, chills and a headache.”

Shelter personnel took him to a hospital emergency room that morning. He was treated and released back to the shelter later that day, Stauffer said.

“The minor’s health did not improve after being transferred back to the shelter so on the morning of April 22, 2019, the minor was taken to another hospital emergency department via ambulance,” Stauffer said. “Later that day the minor was transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas and was treated for several days in the hospital’s intensive care unit.”

ORR is the arm of the government tasked with providing temporary shelter to undocumented immigrant children who arrive in the United States alone. Last year the office’s shelters also housed thousands of children who were separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy.

Children are held in a network of more than 100 shelters in 17 states while officials work to identify sponsors who can care for them as their immigration cases make their way through the system. The average length of stay for an unaccompanied child in the program was 89 days during the first quarter of this fiscal year, according to government statistics.

More than 49,000 unaccompanied minors were referred to ORR shelters last year. In March, one HHS official told CNN the office was preparing for the number of children in its care to double.

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