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Dem leaders vow investigations after latest death of migrant child in US custody
House Democratic leaders on Wednesday vowed to investigate the deaths of two migrant children in U.S. custody.
"The death of two children in U.S. custody is unconscionable," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials on Tuesday announced that an 8-year old Guatemalan boy had died in the agency's custody. The boy, Felipe Gómez Alonzo, died after being hospitalized in New Mexico with flu-like symptoms, high fever and vomiting.
He had been detained with his father after crossing into the country illegally.
"It is incumbent upon Congress to ask serious questions about what happened and who bears responsibility," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.
Hoyer, who is set to serve as majority leader when Democrats take control of the House next month, said he would hold hearings on the children's deaths, "as well as the conditions under which thousands of children are being held."
"I pray for comfort for the families of these children who lost their lives, and I urge the Department of Homeland Security to provide Congress with all the information the public deserves to know and to take action to prevent such tragedies from recurring," Hoyer said.
Felipe's death prompted CBP to order medical checks on all children in custody. He was the second migrant child to die in CBP custody this month.
A 7-year-old girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, died earlier this month after she was detained along with other migrants who illegally crossed the southern border.
"Democrats call on Homeland Security's Inspector General to immediately open an investigation into Felipe Alzono-Gomez's death," Pelosi said. "The Congress will also investigate this tragedy and the heartbreaking death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, to seek justice and ensure that no other child is left to such a fate."
CBP said in a statement it "is considering options for surge medical assistance" from other government agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
CBP officials did not respond to questions about what the secondary medical checks will entail, or what kind of assistance other agencies could provide.
According to news reports, the Department of Homeland Security has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate an uptick in "sick individuals" entering Border Patrol custody.
Alonzo and his father had been in CBP custody since Dec. 18, much longer than what is called for under agency guidelines.
The agency generally recommends detaining individuals for no more than 72 hours in CBP holding facilities.
"Every effort must be made to hold detainees for the least amount of time required for their processing, transfer, release, or repatriation as appropriate and as operationally feasible," the guidelines state.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chairman-elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called for a congressional investigation.
"While the CBP notified Congress within 24 hours as mandated by law, we must ensure that we treat migrants and asylum-seekers with human dignity and provide the necessary medical care to anyone in the custody of the United States government. Congress should investigate this tragedy upon its return to session," Castro said in a statement.
Other Democrats also called for an investigation.
"CBP must provide answers about how this happened, and create stronger protections for people in its custody. The loss of even one child is too great - these tragedies cannot continue," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), said Wednesday.
--Updated at 2:52 p.m.