ACLU Reacts To The Latest Death Of A Migrant Child In U.S. Custody

May 21, 2019
Originally published on May 21, 2019 6:46 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Once again, the Trump administration is having to answer for the death of a migrant child who was apprehended by the Border Patrol. Sixteen-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died yesterday at a Border Patrol station in South Texas. He had spent a week in detention facilities. The day before he died, he was diagnosed with the flu. Hernandez is the fifth migrant child to die after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since December.

In a moment, we'll hear about the government's response. But first, we turn to Rochelle Garza. She's a lawyer with the ACLU of Texas. Welcome to the program.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: You all have investigated conditions at these facilities and concluded that Customs and Border Protection should stop detaining migrants there altogether - right? - in the Rio Grande Valley Sector. Can you just describe what you've seen?

GARZA: Well, we conducted over 120 interviews with migrants, and we've heard pretty horrendous stories, from being denied access to water to being held outdoors in a pen for three days without access to showers or medicine for children. The conditions are pretty horrific.

CORNISH: You mentioned you've interviewed families seeking asylum there. Can you give an example of a story that stuck with you - someone talking about what it was like to try and get health care treatment that they need?

GARZA: There was one family in particular. It was a father with a 2-year-old child that we spoke with. He was held outdoors in the outdoor pen area of the McAllen processing center for three days. His child became ill because there were torrential rains that passed through the area during the weekend. He requested water, and his requests for water were denied. And his multiple requests for medical care for his child were finally answered after several days, and he was finally given some Tamiflu for his child and then released four days later.

CORNISH: Given what you've learned from some of these other families, what stands out to you about this most recent death?

GARZA: I guess from interviewing all these people and talking to them - they're sleep-deprived. They've been held for seven to nine days. And obviously, this young man was held for an extended period of time. We don't know the details of how he was held - if he was held outdoors and then indoors - or how any of that occurred. But what we do know is how people have been treated and how they've been detained. And being forced to sleep outside for several days on end in the South Texas heat, sleeping on gravel without any protection from the sun or elements - that could make anyone sick. And not being allowed to shower, to have access to basic hygiene - it's unimaginable, really. And I think that that plays into the deaths of children.

CORNISH: CBP says it has a record number of migrants - right? - more than 16,000 people in custody. And frankly, they don't really deny that their facilities are not designed for families. They say they're doing what they can, but that they need more resources. Do you think that this is a resource problem?

GARZA: Absolutely not. They're required to process these individuals. They're supposed to do it within a certain time period - no more than 72 hours. And UACs are supposed to be treated in a particular way because they're particularly vulnerable. And as soon as they realize that they are an unaccompanied minor, they're supposed to be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and placed in a least restrictive setting. Having this minor child in detention or in those conditions for seven days - there's no reason for that, and there's no justification. So CBP - there needs to be more transparency as to why they're doing this. Why are they holding people for long periods of time when they should be processing them quickly?

CORNISH: Rochelle Garza is a lawyer with the ACLU of Texas. She spoke to us from Brownsville. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GARZA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.