It’s difficult to understand the full scope of the border crisis without actually visiting. Carlos Hernandez Vazquez was just 16 years old when he died in a Border Patrol Texas in May, far from his former home in Guatemala. His marked the third such death in only six months. From the outside looking in, all three are aberrations: prior to the first death in December 2018, there hadn’t been a child fatality in about ten years.
So what happened and why did it happen now?
The deaths sparked outrage both in the United States and abroad, and rightly so. The thousands of migrants who approached the U.S. border months and months ago did so after fleeing the dangers in their homelands, expecting an opportunity for a better life in the United States. They arrived at a border crossing to apply for asylum, doing their part in what was once considered a completely legal process. In the months since they first arrived, something changed.
Vazquez was held at a facility where the flu virus was spreading like wildfire. When he died, the government made a statement that it intended to send migrants elsewhere. It’s not just the potential health crisis adding fuel to the fire. Vazquez was in custody for nearly a week even though CBP protocols usually guarantee the transfer of migrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours. The latter organization takes in the kids who are traveling without a parent or guardian.
Although almost everyone thinks this situation is completely untenable, no one has been able to enforce an alternative. Part of the reason for this is the Trump Administration’s resistance to providing a home for any of these asylum seekers.
Felipe Gomez Alonso was eight years old when he died on December 24 in a hospital in New Mexico. He was also from Guatemala.
Jakelin Caal Maquin was seven years old when she died on December 7 in a hospital in Texas. She was also from Guatemala.
Juan de Leon Gutierrez was sixteen years old when he died on April 30 in a hospital in Texas. He was also from Guatemala. He was not in CBP custody when he died.
An unidentified two-year-old from Guatemala died on May 14 in a hospital in El Paso, also outside of CBP custody.
The number of children traveling to the United States seeking asylum, most with parents, is unprecedented. The overall capacity of the enforcement system for asylum seekers or immigrants is very much past its limit. The system simply does not have the resources to accommodate the number of new migrants.
Much of the outrage stems from how little is being done to address the resulting deaths or find out how to prevent even more. The conditions under which migrants are living remain unimproved, and no one in the Trump Administration seems to care enough to provide the system with the resources it needs to save lives. Thankfully, many lawyers in the U.S. are working pro bono to try to force relief. It may be too little too late.