Mounting Death Toll: Fifth Child Dies While in Immigration Detention

Welasco, Texas — The Defund Hate coalition and local immigrant rights groups mourn the loss of yet another life while in immigration detention. The 16-year-old child, named Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on May 13, and found unresponsive in his cell during a wellness check on the morning of May 20th.

This is the fifth child to die in government custody since December of 2018. All five of the children were from Guatemala. Those deaths include a 2-year-old toddler who tragically died last week while in CBP custody, and the devastating deaths of Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, age 7, and 8-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who also died while in CBP custody  in December.

The alarming death toll of migrant children while in CBP custody underscores the fact that this enforcement agency is rife with a lack of accountability and a culture of impunity that results in system-wide abuses, including death,” said Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “We must defund CBP, which is the highest funded enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security. Despite this, the agency fails to prioritize its resources and operates detention facilities with egregiously poor conditions and disregard for human life. We need border governance that expands public safety, protects human rights, and welcomes people at our borders.”

“This is the second death under US Custody in one week. It is unacceptable and immoral that while children die in CBP and ICE’s custody, Congress continues to write them a check to put more immigrants and children in detention,” said Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director of United We Dream. “One way we can honor the lives lost is to continue our fight to stop the Deportation Force from getting money that fuels their hate and abuse of our community.”

“It is appalling that children continue to die on U.S. Border Patrol’s watch,” said Astrid Dominguez, director of the ACLU Border Rights Center. “Keeping children in custody goes against our American values. We’ve demanded that the Trump Administration change its inhumane detention practices to prevent tragic deaths from happening. Instead, we’ve received complaints from migrants about inhumane conditions, prolonged detention, lack of shelter, poor medical attention and abuse from agents. This agency is long overdue for reform. We need more than an investigation, CBP needs to hire child welfare and medical professionals to humanely receive and process all arriving families.”

“This is the fifth Guatemalan child to die in U.S. government custody after being apprehended by CBP in recent months,” said Kathryn Johnson, Policy Advocacy Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. “CBP has made it clear it is locking up children and families in deadly facilities in order to deter them from seeking refuge in the U.S. Instead of demanding that this practice cease, Congress is considering handing CBP hundreds of millions more dollars to further terrorize migrants fleeing violence and poverty. This is unconscionable. It’s time for Congress to stop funding dangerous immigration detention and demand accountability from CBP.”

“No child should have to spend their last moments of life in a jail cell under CBP control,” Said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “Congress must stand firm and not allow one more penny to be allocated to CBP or ICE.”

"No immigrant children should be dying in U.S. custody, period. That five children have died in U.S. custody in the past six months is a tragic measurement of the immoral detention policies of the Trump Administration," said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington Director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. "May their memories be a blessing and may Congress hear our cries and stop funding the agencies responsible for tearing communities apart, jailing people seeking asylum, and holding children in detention."

The #DefundHate campaign, composed of organizations representing directly impacted communities, faith leaders, and civil rights and immigrant rights advocates, is committed to divestment from agencies that tear apart our families and terrorize our communities. For too long, our representatives have said they care about our communities while simultaneously funding aggressive immigration enforcement and deadly immigration jails. They must be held accountable to keep their promises and stand with the immigrant community. We call on our members of Congress to say no and vote against wasting taxpayer dollars on an abusive and deadly immigration enforcement system. We want our tax dollars used to strengthen our families and communities by investing in education, housing, nutrition and health care programs that provide opportunity and increase well-being.



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