A day after an 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, the agency cast blame on Congress, federal courts, drug cartels, and immigrant rights advocates.
But congressional Democrats have vowed to investigate the agency itself when they take control of the House in January.
“After the new Democratic Majority begins, the House will hold hearings on this young boy’s death and the death of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal earlier this month — as well as the conditions under which thousands of children are being held,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), said Wednesday.
Hoyer’s pledge to investigate came the day CBP held a call to brief reporters on Alonzo’s death that cast blame everywhere but on the agency itself.
“We have called repeatedly, incessantly and often for Congress and the courts to take action—we are doing all that we can to handle this flood as humanely as possible,” an agency official told reporters Wednesday, according to The Daily Beast.
That official went on to blame “cartels and advocacy groups” for encouraging illegal entry across the country’s southwest border and claim migrant shelters in Mexico are “causing some of these illnesses.”
In an interview with CBS News on Wednesday morning, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan indicated that the problem could be much bigger than just the two children who recently died in the agency’s custody.
“We’re doing dozens of hospital trips every single day with children that have fevers or manifest other medical conditions,” McAleenan said.
CBP is doing an “internal investigation” of Alonzo’s death, the unnamed official on Wednesday’s call told reporters.
Alonzo was picked up with his father while crossing the border a few miles from the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, according to a timeline released by CBP.
He became ill on the morning of December 24, after several transfers to different CBP facilities. Officials took him and his father to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Doctors there diagnosed Alonzo with a cold a released him with a prescription for antibiotics and ibuprofen despite his 103°F fever.
Alonzo went back to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center several hours later with vomiting and lethargy, but doctors soon pronounced him dead.
Just two weeks earlier, another Guatemalan child, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, died of severe dehydration after crossing the border in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CPB, responded with a press release that seemed to blame Caal Maquin and her father for her death.
In response to the two deaths, CPB said Wednesday that it is looking into drawing “surge medical assistance” from other federal agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Defense Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Health and Human Services.
The agency has also asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Mexican government to look into what it said is a spike in illnesses among migrants crossing the southwest border. It’s conducting secondary medical screenings on children who are currently in its custody, and it’s moving to get children into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody more quickly.
Under CBP regulations, the agency has to transfer migrant of any age out of its custody after 72 hours. The 72-hour rule is also part of a court settlement that applies to migrant children. Alonzo spent over 154 hours in CBP custody.