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These kids were in U.S. custody, care

January 1, 2019

Forget, for the moment, the various views — sympathetic, unsympathetic or ambivalent — concerning the recent influx of asylum-seeking Central American children to the U.S.

If they are caught by — or as is often the case, if they surrender to — U.S. border authorities and are detained, they are our responsibility. Period. How or why this detention came to be is essentially irrelevant to that responsibility. And that means that if these detainees suffer injury or die while in this custody, investigations must commence immediately, be thorough, be as transparent as possible and even allow for independent investigation if there is even a possibility of whitewash.

We closed 2018 with the recent deaths of two Guatemalan children in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. The question to answer in this new year is whether these deaths were avoidable once these children essentially became responsibilities of the state. Determining if these lives could have been saved is the core question.

The first to die was 7-year-old Jakelin Caal on Dec. 8 of dehydration and shock about a day and a half after she and her father were apprehended. Many have blamed the father for bringing her, contending that the dehydration and shock were a result of the trek. But the father says she was in good health after they were apprehended.

Late on Christmas Eve, an 8-year-old boy — identified by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez — died after he began to show signs of illness. His father, authorities, say declined further medical care, but the boy was rushed to the hospital after he became lethargic, vomited and lost consciousness. Authorities say he had influenza B.

Homeland Security now says it will do thorough medical screenings of detained children — focusing on those younger than 10. And questions linger. Why was Jakelin’s father given documents to sign in a language he didn’t understand? Why was Felipe put back into detention after his initial treatment?

We have been critical of such detentions generally. Asylum-seekers should be granted full rights to pursue their claims. But even that is largely irrelevant. Could these deaths have been prevented by those imposing the detentions?

The increased medical screening is useful — if belated. If necessary, allow for independent investigations to determine if proper steps were taken and to prevent any future deaths of migrants in custody.

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