CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 May 2019

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Death of child at United States border condemned as ‘unacceptable’

WASHINGTON (CNS): “This was bound to happen,” said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, in reaction to the death of a second child on Christmas Eve at the border of the United States (US) and Mexico.
 
“It’s completely unacceptable. Children are not supposed to be housed at a checkpoint,” he said.
 
“This is a tragic loss. On behalf of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” said the CBP commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, in a December 25 statement. The child, an eight-year-old boy, died while under the agency’s care.
 
McAleenan explained new measures for dealing with detained immigrant children and released more details about what happened leading up to the boy’s death.
 
The agency also said it would seek immediate health checks for all children under its custody, “with a focus on children under 10 years old.”
 
However Catholic groups such as the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas, said the death could have been prevented if US authorities were not blocking migrants from entry points where they can legally ask for asylum. Instead, they said, migrants are driven to enter through more dangerous locations, where they experience dehydration and other dangers, or they are sent to crowded locations not fit to house children.
 
According to the statement by CBP, the child and his father were apprehended on December 18 “west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, for illegal entry.”
 
Between then and December 24, they were moved around several locations and were given food and water and provided welfare checks throughout the journey. 
 
The agency’s account said that on the morning of December 24, an agent noticed the child had “glossy eyes” and was coughing. He was sent along with his father to a general hospital for “possible influenza symptoms” and given Tylenol and another medication.
 
After being released from the hospital the same day, the boy and his father were taken to temporary holding at a highway checkpoint, the agency said, where later that evening the child vomited and “appeared lethargic.” Because of the child’s worsening condition, later in the evening authorities sent the pair back to the hospital.
 
En route to the hospital, the boy began to vomit once again and lost consciousness, the agency’s statement said, and hospital staff were not able to revive him. The boy was pronounced dead just before midnight, according to CBP.
 
While the agency has not released the boy’s name, a statement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus identified him as Felipe Alonzo Gomez of Guatemala. He is the second child to have died while under detention by US border authorities in December. Earlier in the month, authorities said seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, a girl, also from Guatemala, died from dehydration while under Border Patrol custody.
 
“We had the death of yet another young child and that is very troubling,” Corbett said on December 26. “I don’t know if this is politics, I don’t know what’s going on, but this game that politicians are playing in Washington (dealing with) the border is proving deadly.”  
 
For some Catholic groups, the second child’s death on Christmas Eve hit particularly hard.
 
“While parents across the US woke to celebrate Christmas morning with their children, Felipe’s father, who travelled with him (and his mother who remained in Guatemala) mourned the loss of their young boy,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network based in Ohio. 
 
“Felipe’s death is a reminder that children and their parents are coming to our border in the same state that the baby Jesus faced as Mary and Joseph struggled to find a safe place for his birth—vulnerable and at risk. As Christians, we are called to respond with compassion, love and hospitality.”
 
The group made an effort to get more than 1,000 people to send virtual Christmas cards “to Congress and President Trump specifically about care for those who are seeking asylum,” Kerr said.
 
But the irreversible loss of another child’s life is “a tragic example of the desperate need our country has for humane migration policies that respect the dignity and rights of all people,” Kerr said.
 
“The Ignatian Solidarity Network will continue to mobilise our network to call on our elected leaders to ensure our government protects the most vulnerable—especially refugees and asylum seekers, while also responding the root causes of migration through long-term solutions.”
 
The Washington Post reported on December 26  Department of Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, will be sending medical corps from the US Coast Guard to the southern border “to screen immigrants following the deaths of two young children from Guatemala who were in federal custody.”
 
She also is set to visit temporary holding facilities for migrants in late December and will send officials from the Centres for Disease Control to investigate, the newspaper reported.
 
“We shouldn’t have had to wait until two children died for this to happen,” Corbett said.
 
“My prayer this Christmas is that the deaths of Jakelin and Felipe are not meaningless. I hope their deaths mark the end of something and the beginning of something new. Children should not be dying. This is not a game,” he said.

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