Congressional Hispanic Caucus Democrats visit Border Patrol station where Felipe Gomez Alonzo died
Democrats on Monday visited the New Mexico spot where a second migrant died last month to demand the government invest more in emergency medical care and provide better treatment for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants surging across the border.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus organized the visit, which included a Border Patrol station where 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo was held before he ultimately died at a local hospital.
Democrats have turned Felipe and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal into martyrs at the hands of President Trump’s border policies, saying his get-tough approach to illegal crossers and asylum-seekers has forced migrants to take more dangerous routes to reach the U.S.
The lawmakers said they were encouraged that Homeland Security has now boosted medical checks of children caught crossing the border, but the Democrats said it came too late and may not be enough.
“It’s still a long way from where it needs to be,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, chairman of the Hispanic Caucus.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has vowed to lead a probe of the deaths, and said there are plenty of outstanding questions about the way people are treated while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency responsible for the border.
“We heard today wildly different accounts, one from the Border Patrol and one from other people, as to conditions in the border stations, as to medical conditions, as to the availability of proper food,” he said.
Felipe died on Christmas Eve after six days in custody of the Border Patrol, and after being transferred among several holding facilities because of overcrowding.
He was admitted to a hospital suffering from coughing and vomiting, was originally diagnosed with a cold, prescribed Tylenol, and was kept for observation. An hour later the hospital noticed he had a 103-degree fever, prescribed him amoxicillin and Ibuprofen, and released him back to the Border Patrol.
Hours later, while still in custody, he vomited, but his father declined assistance. Still later, an agent said he had “glossy” eyes and decided he should be taken back to the hospital. En route he vomited again and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead 40 minutes after arriving at the hospital.
An autopsy determined he had the flu.
Democrats said part of their investigation will involve figuring out why Felipe was discharged from the hospital.
Border officials say they’ve seen a surge of sick migrants jumping the border. They said part of the reason is smuggling cartels have contracted commercial buses to bring people straight from Central America on a four or five-day journey, making the trip more accessible to sick people than the month-long trip mostly by foot that’s common for many migrants.
After the two deaths, Homeland Security asked the Coast Guard and the public health service to rush medical personnel to the border to help with examinations, and some 50 people a day were found in need of emergency care for everything from flu and tuberculosis to infections and pregnancies.
Administration officials say blame for the deaths lies with parents who bring their children on the dangerous journey, hoping to use the youngsters a way of earning more relaxed treatment. Felipe’s mother told Reuters they’d heard bringing the boy along would ensure his father would be quickly released into the interior, where he could disappear into the shadows.
Democrats, though, say the Trump administration has spurred illegal crossings by throttling the number of people it allows to show up at official border crossings each day to demand asylum.
“They shouldn’t be punished for making an asylum claim,” Mr. Nadler said.