16-year-old Guatemalan immigrant dies in US custody

A 16-year-old Guatemalan immigrant has died in US custody, days after arriving at an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter.

The boy died on Tuesday at a Texas children’s hospital where he had been treated for several days in the intensive care unit, according to a written statement from Evelyn Stauffer, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

“The cause of death is currently under review and, in accordance with standard ORR policies and procedures, the case will be subject to a full review,” Stauffer said.

Her statement, first reported by BuzzFeed, does not identify the boy or detail the government facilities where he’d been held. He’s described as an “unaccompanied alien child,” the term officials use for migrant children who arrive in the United States without parents or guardians.

Guatemala’s foreign ministry said Wednesday the boy had undergone an emergency operation at the hospital after presenting with a severe infection in his frontal lobe. The infection did not improve, the foreign ministry said, even after surgery to relieve pressure in the boy’s skull.

The boy’s death comes months after the deaths of two other immigrant children who fell ill in government custody: 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, who both died in December in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection.

Those cases spurred sharp criticism from immigrant rights advocates over the care children receive while in custody. They also prompted congressional hearings and a decision by immigration authorities to increase medical checks of children in custody.

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