Migrant Teen from Guatemala Dies In US Custody after Brain Surgery

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who was held in a Texas shelter for migrant children died in federal custody on April 30. The teen was an unaccompanied minor who had crossed the US-Mexico border on April 19.

The teen was transferred by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter — known as the Southwest Key Casa Padre — in Brownsville, Texas on April 20, according to Buzzfeed News. The shelter operates out of a former Walmart and houses approximately 1,200 migrant children. Evelyn Stauffer, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, told The North Star that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) clinicians did not notice any health issues and that the 16-year-old did not mention any illness when he was taken to the shelter.

However, on April 21, the teen became “noticeably ill” with a fever, chills, and headache, Stauffer said. The boy was taken to a hospital and was released the same day. He was brought back to the shelter but continued to feel ill the next day. Stauffer said he was taken to another hospital emergency department by ambulance.

“Later that day, the minor was transferred to a children’s hospital in Texas and was treated for several days in the hospital’s intensive care unit,” Stauffer said in a statement. “Following several days of intensive care, the minor passed away at the hospital on April 30, 2019.”

The Guatemalan consulate said the 16-year-old was admitted to a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas with a severe infection in the frontal lobe of his brain. He reportedly underwent surgery to stabilize the pressure in his head and was placed in intensive care, where he died. Stauffer said the boy’s brother and consular officials visited him while he was hospitalized. His family in Guatemala were regularly updated by hospital staff. Consulate officials in McAllen, Texas told Buzzfeed that they attempted to get humanitarian visas for the boy’s parents, but they were unable to travel due to their age.

The unidentified teen's cause of death is under investigation, Stauffer told The North Star. Guatemalan officials said they had begun the process to bring his body back to Guatemala. “The Guatemalan government laments the death of this Guatemalan teen and sends its condolences to his family and reiterates that it will provide support during the repatriation process,” the government said in a statement.

This is the third instance of a Guatemalan migrant child dying in US federal custody in recent months, The New York Times reported. On Christmas Eve, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died after displaying signs of sickness in a Border Patrol facility. Earlier in December, a 7-year-old suffering from a bacterial infection also died in CBP custody. The girl, identified as Jakelin Caal Maquin, was taken to a children’s hospital in El Paso with seizures and difficulty breathing, according to a report about her condition cited by the Times. Doctors who reviewed the autopsy report stated that the 7-year old would have been visibly sick for several hours due to the advanced bacterial infection, according to the outlet.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, ORR took custody of 49,100 unaccompanied minors during fiscal year 2018. Of those children, 73 percent were over the age of 14 and more than 71 percent were boys. The largest number of unaccompanied minors in ORR custody in 2018 came from Guatemala (54 percent) and Honduras (26 percent).

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.