The other migrant child from Guatemala, Jakelin Caal Maquin, died this month in United States custody in New Mexico. Border Patrol said Jakelin had died from dehydration, but her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cruz, disputed that assertion, saying he “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water.”
While details about the boy’s death are scant and there is no evidence so far that conditions in detention were the cause, the proximity of the two children’s deaths is already renewing debate about the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Medical professionals and advocates said on Tuesday that a second death of a child at the border highlighted the risks of keeping vulnerable children in what they called overcrowded, often cold facilities known as “hieleras,” Spanish for ice boxes. Children are not supposed to remain in the facilities for more than 72 hours.
“These facilities are no place for a child, even a well child,” said Marsha Griffin, a pediatrician on the Texas-Mexico border and the co-chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s special interest group on immigrant health.
“The conditions in which these children are being held are truly shocking,” said Dr. Griffin, who said that children who fall ill are not receiving adequate care. “It’s cold, and they are susceptible to influenza and dehydration.”
Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in July that the facilities were built in the 1980s and ’90s to temporarily house migrant adults, not families and children.
“They were built for single adults,” he said. “Think of it like a police station, like short-term detention before they’re turned over to a jail or a longer-term facility. In immigration, it’s ICE. They were not built to handle families and children.”