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Trump blames Democrats for border deaths

More health exams for migrant children

Mourners carry the casket of Abdullah Hassan, 2, at the California Islamic Center in Lodi, Calif, on Dec 29. The toddler died days after a reunion with his mother from Yemen, after a long fight with a degenerative brain disease. He was separated from his mother due to travel restrictions instituted by the Trump Administration. (AP)

YUMA, Arizona, Dec 30, (AP): More thorough initial health screenings for migrants, as well as secondary screenings, will be held for every child in Border Patrol custody following the deaths of two Guatemalan children this month, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was visiting Yuma, Arizona, on Saturday, a day after her trip to meet border officials and medical staff in El Paso, Texas. “The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis and protect vulnerable populations,” Nielsen said in a statement. She called on Congress to “act with urgency.”

Late Friday, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said he was among those who met with Nielsen, saying they discussed “our immigration needs on the border.” The statement from Margo, a Republican, did not mention the deaths of migrant children or whether it was discussed. The trip came days after the death of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Felipe was the second Guatemalan child to die in government custody in three weeks. A 7-year-old girl died in El Paso earlier this month. Nielsen has called the death “deeply concerning and heartbreaking” and requested medical help from other government agencies, including the US Coast Guard. As Nielsen made the trip to Texas, New Mexico’s Democratic senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, sent her a letter Friday seeking answers about the boy’s death.

“The timeline, action and factors that led to Felipe’s death are still developing, but the information that has become public so far is alarming and demands immediate attention and investigation,” the letter says. President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for migrant deaths at the border Saturday.

He tweeted the deaths are the fault of “their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.” He went on to say “The two children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol.” US Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat whose district includes Yuma and much of the US-Mexico-border, on Saturday issued a statement saying Nielsen was visiting Yuma “under the dark cloud of a Republican-induced government shutdown, the president’s threats to close the border and the tragic deaths of two children in DHS custody.

Felipe and his father, Agustin Gomez, were apprehended by border agents on Dec 18 near the Paso del Norte bridge connecting El Paso to Juarez, Mexico, according to US Customs and Border Protection. The two were detained at the bridge’s processing center and then the Border Patrol station in El Paso, until being taken at about 1 am Sunday to a facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 90 miles (145 km) away. After an agent noticed Felipe coughing, father and son were taken to an Alamogordo hospital, where Felipe was diagnosed with a common cold and found to have a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius), CBP has said.


Felipe was held for observation for 90 minutes, according to CBP, before being released with prescriptions for amoxicillin and ibuprofen. But the boy fell sick hours later on Monday and was re-admitted to the hospital. He died just before midnight. New Mexico authorities said late Thursday that an autopsy showed Felipe had the flu, but more tests need to be done before a cause of death can be determined.

President Donald Trump claims that two Guatemalan children who died in US custody were already ill, yet both young migrants passed initial health screenings by border officials. As Democrats criticized Trump for also tweeting Saturday that Democratic immigration policies were responsible for the deaths, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited medical officials and Border Patrol agents at the southern border in Arizona and Texas amid promises of additional wellness screenings for migrant children.

In Guatemala, the mother of 8-yearold Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died Christmas Eve, told The Associated Press that her son was healthy when he left with his father on their journey hoping to migrate to the US. “When he called me, he told me he was fine. He told me not to worry because he was fine,” Catarina Alonzo said from the family’s home in the remote Guatemalan village of Yalambojoch, her stepdaughter Catarina Gomez translating her indigenous language Chuj into Spanish. Catarina Alonzo said the last time she spoke with Felipe he was in Mexico at the US border and said he was eating chicken.

Their village is in Nenton municipality in Huehuetenango province, about 250 miles (400 km) west of Guatemala City. Trump, whose administration has faced widespread criticism over the deaths, pointed on Twitter at Democrats “and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.” He also said that both children “were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol.”

The two tweets were his first comments on the death of Felipe and the death Dec 8 of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal. An initial screening of Jakelin “revealed no evidence of health issues,” US Customs and Border Protection said Dec 14. It wasn’t until several hours later that Jakelin’s father, Nery Caal, told agents she was “sick and vomiting,” CBP said. Attorneys for the Caal family have also denied claims that Nery “hadn’t given her water in days,” as Trump wrote.

And CBP said Tuesday that agents logged 23 welfare checks of Felipe and his father in the first several days the two were was detained. Felipe’s father, Agustin Gomez, told a Guatemalan official that the boy first showed signs of illness Monday morning, the day he died. Despite Trump’s claim that Democrats were responsible for “pathetic” immigration policies, at least one of the laws his administration has blamed – legislation that prevents the immediate deportation of unaccompanied children from Central American countries – was signed in 2008 by President George W. Bush, a Republican.

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