Investigators also said that CBP failed to consistently conduct welfare checks. CBP policy states that while officers are supposed to monitor detained people in a “regular and frequent manner,” they checked only 35 of the 98 individuals on an hourly basis. The majority, 44, were checked in spans that ranged as long as four hours. Five were checked after four hours, and five were not checked at all, investigators said. This matters because children have died while in CBP custody, alone and neglected.
Following 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez’s flu-related death in May 2019, disturbing surveillance video footage later revealed “he lay for hours in his cell before he was found dead,” The New York Times reported. “A video shows the boy in severe distress. He was discovered by his cellmate, not immigration officials, as they originally claimed.” In other words, border officials lied about his death. Texas Monthly reported that the boy “is seen lying on the floor, vomiting on the floor, and walks over to the commode, where he sits and later lies back and expires.”
But despite this 16-year-old’s death, investigators said “CBP’s current policies do not require medical assessments for juveniles aged 13–17, unless they have an identified medical concern, even though juveniles older than 12, but younger than 18, have died in CBP custody.” That emphasis is mine, because it needs to be emphasized. “By conducting medical assessments of all juveniles under the age of 18, CBP could better identify those who may be ill and prevent deaths.”
Doctors for Camp Closure member Dr. Mario Mendoza would call the boy’s death “preventable,” saying that immigration officials were carrying out “passive genocide.” A second physician, pediatrician Fiona Danaher, told members of Congress last year that the deaths of two other migrant children in CBP custody, seven-year-old Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, were also preventable.
Investigators also said in their report that health policies enacted by CBP “did not always include clear and specific guidance,” did not “include procedures to guide agents and officers on recognizing symptoms for ‘at-risk’ individuals,” or “require agents and officers to retrain when there are changes to protocols and emergency and providing basic first procedures.” More than a year after the deaths of Jakelin and Felipe, the previous administration released what they called a migrant health screening plan. But medical professionals slammed it as “incredibly frustrating,” “bare bones,” and “beyond disappointing,” CNN reported at the time.
But a second DHS OIG report released a day prior, July 20, revealed even younger victims of CBP’s tactics. “[O]ur review of a sample of childbirths in custody showed Border Patrol did not always take prompt action to expedite the release of U.S. citizen newborns, resulting in some being held in stations for multiple days and nights,” investigators said. It’s common knowledge that border facilities are barely fit for human adults, much less children and infants. Investigators said that “Border Patrol’s data on pregnant detainees is limited and the agency lacks the necessary processes and guidance to reliably track childbirths that occur in custody.”
“Lastly, we found that Border Patrol agents do not have guidelines on interpreting for Spanish-speaking detainees at hospitals. As a result, an agent assigned to hospital watch for the detainee provided interpretation that may not have comported with CBP’s language access guidance,” the report also said. “Although the agent interpreted at the request of the detainee in this instance, Border Patrol personnel risk misinterpreting medical information, which may have serious health implications for detainees.” But some Central American asylum-seekers don’t speak Spanish at all, but rather an indigenous language, and there’s no indication from the report whether there are meaningful attempts at all to connect them with interpreters.
President Biden in April nominated Tucson, Arizona, police chief Chris Magnus to be the new CBP commissioner. That nomination however was as of last week halted by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden over what he said is the administration’s continued failure to provide meaningful answers into DHS’ deployment of federal officers to Portland last year. Among officers sent to terrorize demonstrators there were members of a special tactical unit within CBP that then raided a humanitarian medical camp in the border desert. Jenn Budd, a former senior border agent turned whistleblower, told The Guardian last year that the special tactical unit is among “the most violent and racist in all law enforcement.”