The mother of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody has revealed her family’s reasons for bringing the boy on the dangerous trek to the U.S. border.
In an interview with Reuters, Catarina Alonzo said that her husband took her son with him to the border in the hopes that the child would afford them easier entry into the United States.
Instead, 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo became ill and passed away.
“Lots of them have gone with children and managed to cross, even if they’re held for a month or two. But they always manage to get across easily,” Alonzo told Reuters through sobs.
Alonzo said that her husband, an agricultural worker, wanted to get to the U.S. to find better work to pay off his debts. He also hoped that he could enroll Felipe in a higher quality school.
Felipe Gomez Alonzo fell ill in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody on Monday and was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a common cold and a fever. The child was given prescriptions for Amoxicillin and Ibuprofen, but later began vomiting.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Felipe’s father was offered further medical treatment for his son but declined. During a later welfare check, agents noticed the boy was in poor condition and took him to the hospital, where he passed away just before midnight.
Felipe is the second child to die in CBP custody this month. 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, also from Guatemala, passed away after falling ill during a bus ride to the nearest U.S. port of entry.
The children’s deaths have increased scrutiny of the conditions in migrant shelters and led CBP to conduct welfare checks on every single child in their custody. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is also personally taking a trip to the border to review her agency’s tactics in detaining migrants.
The Trump administration has denied responsibility for the migrant deaths and is urging parents not to bring children with them on the long journeys to the border from Central America.
“Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country?” White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley told reporters earlier this month.
“We cannot stress how dangerous the journey is when migrants come illegally,” Nielsen similarly said in an interview with Fox News.
Administration officials have argued that current immigration policies are to blame for the large number of families showing up at the border. Because there are limits on how long children can legally be detained, families who cross the border illegally are often released into the U.S. with merely a directive to show up for a later court date.
Hoping to combat the issues with the “catch and release” policy, Nielsen announced this week that asylum-seekers would be forced to wait in Mexico until their next court hearings.