Congressional Hispanic Caucus demands answers on death of migrant children

Stefani Reynolds

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) are ramping up calls for the Trump administration to be more transparent about the deaths of migrant children held in the custody of Customs and Border Protection.

Their renewed call, made during a press conference on Tuesday, comes after the CBP confirmed the death of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a Guatemalan immigrant, on Monday. He was the third child this month and fifth in less than a year to die in U.S. custody.

“Instead of responding to multiple requests from committees of jurisdiction for this Congress, the administration has stonewalled Congress, dismissed our concerns and doubled down on their cruel policies,” CHC Chairman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) told reporters.

“And on the other side of the aisle, unfortunately, many of our Republican colleagues aren’t speaking out, in fact, few are speaking out. Their silence is a kind of complicity, a tacit acceptance of the Trump administration’s inhumane border policy.”

Castro said lawmakers have an obligation to ensure migrant children are provided with humane conditions and adequate care while they are in CBP custody, arguing that by obstructing Congress’s requests to obtain the information they are putting additional children’s lives at risk.

“It’s Congress’ responsibility to provide oversight and it’s our job to work to prevent these deaths and hold the administration accountable,” he continued.  “By failing to respond to our inquiries the administration is preventing Congress from having critical information so that we can make decisions on how to make things better.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said he plans to introduce a bill requiring undocumented immigrants are provided with basic necessities including medical care and shelter in hopes of preventing future tragedies.

“This legislation will require CBP to conduct standardized health screenings that prioritize vulnerable populations, infants, toddlers, children, minors, women, pregnant women and elders, to make sure they get a timely health screening that is composed of a questionnaire, recent history interview, vital signs, physical examination, assessment and plan with consultation with emergency care physicians or providers if there’s any abnormalities,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference.

Ruiz dismissed certain administration officials — including former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — who attributed the deaths of minors in CBP custody to medical challenges and illnesses due in part to challenges faced during their journey to the U.S.

“It is absolutely zero, zero legitimate, it is a shunning of moral responsibility,” he said.  “It is the neglect of one’s own consciousness that they try to bring reasons as to why it’s not their responsibility if a child dies, if there is any child, any minor, or anybody who’s liberties have been taken because they are under the custody and detention of an agency, then it is that agency’s responsibility to ensure that  the basic needs of individuals are met.”

The CHC —  along with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and 40 other members — said they planned to send letters to the acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and HHS Secretary Alex Azar and the agency’s inspector generals demanding they investigate Vasquez’s death this week.

Tags Joaquin Castro Kirstjen Nielsen Raul Ruiz
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