Democrats Call for Better Medical Care, Flu Vaccines Following One-Year Anniversary of the Deaths of Migrant Children

Democrats are calling for flu vaccines and proper medical care following the one-year anniversary of the death of a seven-year-old girl from Guatemala who died from the flu while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a press conference on Tuesday to demand that CBP provide flu vaccines and proper medical care to migrants in their custody. Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died on December 8, 2018, in CBP custody from a bacterial infection called streptococcal sepsis, NPR News previously reported.

Maquin was traveling with her father to the U.S. from Guatemala when they were stopped by border officials two days before she died, according to NPR. The young girl was reportedly having seizures, vomiting and had difficulty breathing by the time she was taken to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. The medical examiner stated that the infection had spread to her lungs, liver, spleen and adrenal gland, causing organ failure.

On Friday, Chairman of the Hispanic Caucus Joaquin Castro (D-TX) introduced the Jakelin Caal Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2019 with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). The bill would mandate the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to report on and investigate all deaths that occur in government custody, including Maquin’s death.

“Jakelin’s death was a travesty, a dark stain on the moral fabric of this country,” said Castro in a statement. “One year later, Congress has yet to receive any of the information we’ve requested surrounding her death, despite laws that mandate agencies to report on all deaths of migrant children in their custody. This lack of action not only dishonors Jakelin’s memory, but her entire family and all families that entrust our nation with their lives.”

There have been at least seven children who have died in immigration custody since last year.

Children Who Have Died in Immigration Custody

  • Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez- Hernandez Vasquez, 16, died of the flu and other complications in May while in CBP custody. On Thursday, new footage obtained and published by ProPublica showed that CBP guards left the sick 16-year-old from Guatemala in a holding cell at a processing center in McAllen, Texas, without proper medical care. This footage has sparked public outrage. The following day, the Hispanic Caucus called on the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to further investigate the teen’s death. In a letter to the inspector,the caucus wrote: “Records show that the Border Patrol fell woefully short of providing adequate care for Carlos while in their custody. The shocking video surveillance shows Carlos on the floor for at least 25 minutes before making his way to the toilet and collapsing on the floor, where he was left for nearly five hours. Per an activity log maintained by Border Patrol, an agent checked on him three times during the early morning, but reported nothing disturbing — despite the fact that he was lying on the floor near the toilet. Agents could have only missed Carlos’ emergency if they were not looking. The video makes clear that Carlos was in severe distress, yet he remained in a holding cell rather than a hospital, which in this case was a fatal mistake by CBP.”

  • Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez - Ramírez Vásquez, who was only two years old, died in May after being detained by Border Patrol a month before,The Washington Post reported. The toddler from Guatemala died from complications related to “multiple intestinal and respiratory infectious diseases,” according to the medical examiner’s report obtained by The Post.

  • Felipe Gómez Alonzo - Gómez Alonzo, 8, died on December 24, 2018, a week after he was detained by Border Patrol for coming to the U.S. with his father from Guatemala. The eight-year-old also died of the flu and a bacterial infection at a hospital in New Mexico, The Guardian previously reported.

  • Darlyn Valle - Valle, a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador, died of a heart condition in September 2018 while being held in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, CBS News previously reported. The news about Valle’s death wasn’t reported until May of this year.

  • Juan de León Gutiérrez - Gutiérrez, 16, from Guatemala, died from a rare condition called Pott’s puffy tumor, according to the Nueces County medical examiner in Corpus Christi, Texas, NBC News previously reported. He died in intensive care at a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi. Before he was taken to the hospital, the 16-year-old was under the care of ORR in April 2018, BuzzFeed News previously reported.

  • Mariee Juarez - Juarez, who was also from Guatemala, was only one years old when she died from a respiratory infection after she and her mother, Yazmin Juarez, were released from an immigration detention center in Arizona, ABC News previously reported.

What Now

After the year anniversary of the death of seven-year-old Maquin, many organizations are taking a stand and demanding flu shots and better medical practices inside of detention centers. A petition by to allow vaccinations in detention centers was created by Doctors for Camp Closures.

“We, the undersigned medical doctors, health professionals, and health profession students, call on Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to allow Doctors for Camp Closure to offer influenza vaccine at a migrant detention center, in accordance with current, evidence-based standards of preventive health care,” the petition statement read.

Jess Morales Rocketto, the chairwoman for Families Belong Together, wrote in a statement following the new footage of 16-year-old Hernandez Vasquez’s death, that the Trump administration needs to act quickly so no more children die in immigration custody.

“This has become a horrific pattern: our immigration system is killing innocent children and the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care. This administration’s cruel immigration agenda is intentionally barring life-saving medical care from children by refusing to provide vaccines during flu season,” the statement read. “Earlier this year, immigration authorities sat by [as] 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died from the flu on the floor of his concrete jail cell. This callous disregard for children and families does not reflect who we are as a nation. We need action immediately to get children the life-saving care they need to make sure that no more kids die in cages.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.