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Torres Small wants answers on child deaths

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five months after the deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., wants the Department of Homeland Security to provide an update on the investigations.

“Despite circumstances at the border continuing to drastically change and more family units continuing to voluntarily seek asylum, DHS still hasn’t completed these investigations which could shed meaningful light onto the resources needed at the border and prevent these types of deaths from happening again,” Torres Small said in a statement released Tuesday. She is among 17 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, all Democrats, who signed a letter “urging” Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan to provide an update to Congress on the investigations into the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Gómez Alonzo.

Jakelin Caal Maquin

Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala, crossed the border with her father in the Antelope Wells area and became deathly ill while being transported to El Paso where she died at a hospital on Dec. 8. A few weeks later on Christmas Eve, 8-year-old Gómez Alonzo died in Alamogordo. He crossed the border with his father in El Paso but was sent to a Border Patrol holding facility in New Mexico. An Alamogordo hospital said he had a cold shortly before he died.

Felipe Gomez Alonzo

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator performed an autopsy and determined the boy’s cause of death was complications from an influenza-related infection. A medical examiner in Texas found Caal Maquin died of a sepsis infection.

During testimony before Congress in early March, former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the department was waiting for autopsy reports “to quickly move forward” with the investigations. The autopsies were completed more than a month ago.

“I’m urging Acting Secretary McAleenan, just as I urged former Secretary Nielsen, to oversee the completion of the investigations and present the findings to Congress,” Torres Small said.

“Our federal government must provide a full accounting of the policies and practices that contributed to the deaths of Jakelin and Felipe – innocent children whose lives were cut short in the custody of our federal government,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, chair of the CHC Health Task Force. “I am an emergency medicine physician and humanitarian aid specialist. I know from experience that CBP facilities are under-staffed, under-equipped, and unprepared to care for the families in their custody.”

The congressman from California said he will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to “implement humanitarian standards to govern CBP’s treatment of the women, children and families in their custody and prevent future loss of life.”