According to officials, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who crossed the U.S. border unaccompanied died while he was in government custody in Texas. Officials identified the teenager as Juan de León Gutiérrez. Since December, three children have died while in government custody. The first was a 7-year-old girl who died just hours after being taken into custody by Border Patrol officers.
At the beginning of April, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) claimed it was on track to detaining the most immigrant youth in the history of the agency. According to numbers from late March, close to 32,000 unaccompanied children had been referred to the ORR for custody.
The government has contracts with private and nonprofit shelters to hold these detained minors until a family member can pick them up. Gutiérrez was brought to the Southwest Key Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, Texas. The facility used to be a Walmart and houses about 1,200 migrant youth.
Evelyn Stauffer, a Health and Human Services spokesperson, said US Customs and Border Protection clinicians did not notice any health concerns with Gutiérrez. Stauffer also said Gutiérrez didn’t mention anything was wrong with his health when he was first brought to the shelter. Stauffer added that the next morning, however, Gutiérrez became “noticeably ill” and had a fever, chills, and a headache.
Gutiérrez was brought to a hospital by workers at Southwest Key Casa Padre on April 21. Stauffer said he was treated and released that day and returned the shelter. According to Stauffer:
“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. Later that day, the minor was transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas and was treated for several days in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Following several days of intensive care, the minor passed away at the hospital on April 30, 2019.”
The ORR is still investigating the case and a cause of death has yet to be determined. One person with knowledge of Gutiérrez’s case said he made the journey from Guatemala to the U.S partly because he was seeking medical treatment related to headaches.
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