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Migrant Boy Dies In Government Custody In New Mexico Hospital


An 8-year-old migrant boy from Guatemala died in U.S. government custody on Monday night. Just a few weeks ago, a 7-year-old girl, also from Guatemala, died also after being apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe has been covering the stories of migrants near the southern border, and she's on the line with me now from El Paso.

Good morning, Monica.


KING: So what else do we know about this little Guatemalan boy who died?

ORTIZ URIBE: Well, what we know is what Customs and Border Protection has put out now in a second statement since yesterday, which is that the boy, who was 8 years old, died shortly before midnight on Christmas Day. Earlier, they had said that he died shortly after midnight on Christmas Day. And we know from that statement that he was hospitalized the day before Christmas Eve with a cold, released after given ibuprofen and antibiotics. But he later returned to the hospital after he began vomiting and died there.

My colleague here in El Paso, who reports for The Washington Post, found out that the boy was held at a Border Patrol checkpoint a hundred miles north of El Paso, due to overcrowding at the facilities here. And these are checkpoints - they're small stations that travelers pass on the highway as they move away from the border, and they're not the kind of facilities equipped for long-term stays. CBP has also said that it's considering a, quote, "surge in medical assistance" for children in their custody and that they may seek help from other agencies like the Coast Guard, FEMA and Health and Human Services.

KING: That sounds like an acknowledgment that this tragedy needs to be addressed. I understand you've been in El Paso talking with families who've just been released from custody. But they were released without warning. So the local volunteers who would typically help them were caught unaware. What is the scene down there? What have people been telling you?

ORTIZ URIBE: Sure. I talked with some of these migrants, most of them Central American families, in a park a block away from the Greyhound station in downtown El Paso. They had just been released from ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, custody. So that experience was front and center in their mind. I spoke with one Guatemalan mother. Her name was Kenya Hernandez (ph), and she teared up describing that experience.

KENYA HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ORTIZ URIBE: She says they stayed on a filthy floor and didn't get enough to eat or drink. Others told me they were in a windowless, crowded room where they couldn't tell whether it was day or night. I saw children still holding the paper-thin blankets that look like tinfoil given to them by the authorities. Some had no shoes. One boy was feverish and had to be picked up by an ambulance. Now, imagine 400 people in this state. I recall a mother who was holding her infant child and looking up at a volunteer and asking - estamos libre? - which means, are we free?

KING: A lot down there seems like it needs to be worked out.

Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe, thank you so much for following this for us.

ORTIZ URIBE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.