House Democrats Want To Know Why Migrants Keep Dying In Federal Custody

Dec 23, 2019
In The News

Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers from the Department of Homeland Security following several deaths of migrant children in government custody since last year.  

On Monday, the House Oversight Committee, led by Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), sent letters to DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement requesting documents as part of its investigation into “a pattern of negligence and abuse leading to serious harm and the deaths of immigrants detained by the Trump Administration.”

In the letter to DHS, lawmakers pointed to the case of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, who died in May after being taken into Border Patrol custody. The boy was originally diagnosed with the flu and given medicine ― but instead of being taken to a hospital, he was transferred to a border station and found dead in his cell the next day. The lawmakers’ letter also refers to recent reporting from ProPublica that showed Customs and Border Protection misled the public about the boy’s treatment.

“The Department’s failure to care for this sick child appears to be part of a troubling pattern of abuse and poor treatment of immigrants in the Department’s detention centers,” Maloney said in a news release, saying the case “raises serious questions about whether DHS is failing to treat children and adults with basic human dignity and compassion.” 

At least six migrant children have died in government custody since 2018. In the previous decade, no migrant children died in custody, according to ProPublica. 

HuffPost reached out to DHS for comment but did not immediately receive a response. 

In a separate letter to ICE, lawmakers demanded documents from the agency following “reports of gross negligence by medical staff treating detainees” in ICE custody. 

Reports have long noted all-too-often unsanitary and unsafe conditions for migrants detained in ICE facilities. A report from human rights groups in 2018 identified over a dozen deaths of immigrants in ICE custody in recent years. The report said “substandard” care was given to migrants in nearly all cases and “inadequate” medical treatment “likely” contributed or led to detainees’ deaths in over half of them.

HuffPost reached out to ICE for comment but had not received a response by Monday evening. 

The House oversight committee requested documents by Jan. 10. Lawmakers have been investigating the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants in government custody for several months. 

In July, the committee held hearings on poor conditions for migrants in DHS detention centers. Earlier that month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic lawmakers visited detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border and described migrants being held in “appalling” conditions, including being covered in filth from an inability to shower or change, having canker sores from unhealthy food and only thin blankets for sleeping on concrete. 

In May, a DHS watchdog, reporting on Border Patrol facilities in El Paso, found that detained migrants were kept in dirty and extremely crowded conditions, forcing some people to stand on toilets to get some breathing room. 

Earlier this month, House Democrats introduced sweeping legislation aiming to overhaul the immigration system, which included decriminalizing border crossings.