An unaccompanied immigrant boy died in U.S. government custody on Tuesday, becoming the third minor to die in federal custody since December 2018. The unidentified 16-year-old's death is currently being investigated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), per BuzzFeed News, which first reported the death.
Evelyn Stauffer, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (ACF), says in an emailed statement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transferred the 16-year-old boy to the ORR on April 20. Stauffer says that medical practitioners with the Customs and Border Protection unit initially noticed "no health concerns" in the teenager, but adds that "on the morning of April 21, 2019 the minor became noticeably ill including fever, chills and a headache."
"The shelter personnel brought the minor to a hospital emergency department that morning on April 21, 2019 where the minor was treated by the hospital and released later that day back to the shelter," Stauffer says. "The minor’s health did not improve after being transferred back to the shelter so on the morning of April 22, 2019 the minor was taken to another hospital emergency department via ambulance."
The young boy was taken to a Texas hospital where he spent "several days" in the intensive care unit, according to the statement. The minor's family was given frequent updates on his health, Stauffer says, and he died on April 30.
This isn't the first time that the United States government has come under scrutiny for reports of young migrants dying on its watch. In late 2018, the deaths of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo in U.S. custody caused activists to raise concerns about the quality of care young migrants were receiving in detention centers.
At the time, former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned in April, acknowledged the children's deaths. "It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey," she stated in December. But Nielsen also seemed to place the blame elsewhere.
"Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders," Nielsen stated. "Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north."
In April, ABC News reported that autopsy reports indicated both Jakelin and Felipe contracted bacterial infections and died as a result. Pediatrician Julie Linton of the American Academy of Pediatrics told the outlet that kids that young were especially vulnerable to such diseases. "Children are not little adults," Linton told ABC News, "so when they get sick those symptoms don't present the same way."
The latest migrant death has sparked outrage and concern on social media. On Wednesday, the immigration activist group Families Belong Together decried the 16-year-old boy's death. "Another migrant child has tragically died in federal custody," the group tweeted. "There is no denying that this is a pattern. Refugee and asylum-seeking children hoping for better lives are dying at the hands of this administration. Our coalition demands accountability."
Officials are looking into the conditions that led up to the teenager's death. "The cause of death is currently under review and, in accordance with standard ORR policies and procedures, the case will be subject to a full review," Stauffer says.