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Mexican national dies in border patrol custody, following deaths of two migrant children

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 19/2/2019 Isaac Stanley-Becker
President Trump last month toured the U.S. border with Mexico at the Rio Grande on the southern border in McAllen, Tex., where a 45-year-old Mexican national died in government custody on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP) © Evan Vucci/AP President Trump last month toured the U.S. border with Mexico at the Rio Grande on the southern border in McAllen, Tex., where a 45-year-old Mexican national died in government custody on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

A 45-year-old Mexican national detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection died Monday at a medical facility in McAllen, Tex., after twice asking for medical attention, the agency reported.

The adult’s passing followed the deaths in December of two migrant children in government custody, prompting a vow from CBP to conduct health checks on all children in its “care and custody,” as the agency’s commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan, said at the time. The fate of those two children, both from Guatemala, renewed concerns about the policy of separating migrant children from their parents as part of President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

Another death is likely to raise fresh questions for the border control organization at the forefront of that policy, especially as the president crusades for a wall at the southern border. Rather than a crisis of illegal entries that Trump falsely claims is overwhelming the country, his critics point to a humanitarian crisis fomented by his own hardline approach.


According to a statement Monday from the agency, the unnamed adult was apprehended on Feb. 2 for illegal reentry, after coming into contact with authorities near the port of entry in Roma, Tex., about 50 miles northwest of McAllen. The detainee requested medical attention, and was transported to a hospital in Mission, Tex., adjacent to McAllen. The same day, the individual was cleared to travel and sent back to a CBP station in Rio Grande City, close to Roma.

On Feb. 3, the detainee again requested medical attention, and, according to CBP, was transported to the McAllen Medical Center “shortly thereafter.” The Mexican national was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and congestive heart failure and remained at the 441-bed hospital from Feb. 3 until dying just before 9 a.m. Monday.

The official cause of death was unknown. The border control agency said it was conducting a review. It had also notified the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, which is charged with oversight of the department, as well as Congress and the Mexican government.

“This loss of life is tragic,” Andrew Meehan, a CBP spokesman, said in the news release. "Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones. CBP remains committed to ensuring the safe and humane treatment of those within the care of our custody.”

As of last month, when NBC News published a review of audits and other government reports, at least 22 immigrants had died in American detention centers over the previous two years.

In the same period, the DHS’s Office of Inspector General issued numerous warnings about about improper care at detention facilities. A report released in December 2017 identified “problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” Earlier that same year, the oversight office found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were not always recording and promptly reporting instances in which detainees had been separated because of mental health problems.

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