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Guatemalan Toddler Apprehended At U.S. Border Dies After Weeks In Hospital

A Guatemalan toddler died in a hospital Tuesday night, just over a month after he and his mother crossed the southwest border and were apprehended, according to the Guatemalan consul in Del Rio, Texas.

The family entered the U.S. from the border city of Juárez, Mexico, in early April. They were apprehended on April 3 on the north bank of the Rio Grande in central El Paso, Texas, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Guatemalan Consul Tekandi Paniagua told NPR that the 2½-year-old boy "had a high fever [and] difficulty breathing."

A Customs and Border Protection official familiar with the case said the mother informed federal agents that her son was sick after they were taken into custody. The official said the child was taken by ambulance that day to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia, and then transferred the following day to a children's hospital in El Paso.

"He got worse over a month," Paniagua said, adding that the consulate was waiting on a formal cause of death before sending the child's body back to Guatemala.

"The Guatemalan Consul in Del Rio reiterates this is a highly dangerous journey and children are the most vulnerable," Paniagua stated.

The mother and child were released from U.S. custody after the boy was admitted to the hospital. The child's mother remains in the U.S., awaiting resolution of her immigration case, according to the agency official.

The boy is the fourth Guatemalan minor to die after crossing the border and being apprehended by the border patrol since December. The deaths of migrant children have prompted U.S. immigration authorities to increase medical checks of minors taken into custody along the country's southwest border.

In December, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died from a bacterial infection known as streptococcal sepsis, two days after she and her father were taken into CBP custody. Eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died on Christmas day. Like Maquin, he was in CBP custody when he died of flu complicated by sepsis.

Last month, a 16-year-old boy died in a children's hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, less than two weeks after he was detained and transferred to a child shelter contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The cause of death was eventually determined to be a brain infection.

A record number of asylum-seeking families crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in April, according to CBP data. More than 58,000 family members were apprehended.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.