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Kids are dying

December 29, 2018

Did Felipe Gomez Alonzo think about Santa Claus before he died?

It was Christmas Eve when the 8-year-old Guatemalan passed away in a New Mexico hospital. Even in the freezing hieleras where Central American migrants are kept after being detained by U.S. border atrol, or at roadside checkpoints like where Alonozo was held, we’d like to believe that children still dream of sugar plums and a jolly old elf.

It’s a dream, after all, that sent Alonzo and his father on such a perilous journey from their violence-plagued nations to the United States — a dream of a better life.

For generations that promise of America has led immigrants to our shores, and this wave of Central Americans is no different. Like in decades past, the journey can be perilous, whether across oceans or deserts. What’s different this time is that we’re seeing people die not only along the way, but once they get here.

Alonzo was the second child in U.S. custody to lose is life in less than a month. Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died under similar circumstances.

Both were in New Mexico. Both had come from Guatemala. The facts around both deaths remain hazy.

We know that Alonzo and his father had been held for six days — double the Border Patrol’s own recommended limit.

Before these two, no child had died in border patrol custody in more than a decade. So what has changed?

The American people deserve to know the truth — deserve to know how the public servants of the border patrol are treating children. Documented or otherwise, the United States assumes responsibility for these kids once they come under our care. When they die, it inflicts an irreparable wound on our national soul. Their deaths mark a moment of deep shame in our shared history.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long warned that the overcrowded detention facilities were only intended to handle adults and could pose a danger to children.

That danger has become real.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Democrats and Republicans — including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — have called for our immigration process to be bolstered with additional judges who could quickly and more effectively adjudicate asylum claims.

Immigration activists have pointed out the United States has previously relied on alternatives to detention that effectively track migrants without keeping them locked up.

Even the head of Customs and Border Protection is calling on Congress to give that agency better resources to handle an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities,” CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday.

For the Trump administration, policy at the border isn’t about due process, humanitarianism or even rule of law. As the administration has stated time and again, the goal is to discourage people from making the journey here in the first place.

How many more kids have to die until President Trump feels people have been properly discouraged?

The courts are trying to restrain Trump’s pain-first agenda. Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order from a California judge that prohibited the administration from denying asylum claims made by people entering the United States outside official ports of entry. U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar said the president cannot “rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.”

Last week, a New York judge ordered a bail hearing for an Ivory Coast citizen held for three years after requesting asylum at an El Paso border crossing. The judge said the migrant could not merely be detained indefinitely.

“This nation prides itself on its humanity and openness with which it treats those who seek refuge at its gates,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote. “By contrast, the autocracies of the world have been marked by harsh regimes of exclusive and detention. Our notions of due process nourish the former spirit and brace us against the latter.”

Halfway into his first term, Trump continues to lay siege against the guardrails of democracy and he’s starting to rack up a body count.

The newly elected Democratic majority in the House needs to tie the hands of an administration for whom dead kids are treated like an acceptable loss and thoroughly investigate these children’s deaths. Congressional leaders must prove to the world — and the people they represent — that American ideals of humanity and openness aren’t just some fairy tale we tell children.

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