A 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in U.S. custody last September, but the government did not release this information until Wednesday. She is one of six migrant children who have died after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and being placed under the care of the U.S. government over the past eight months. Before this period, no migrant child had died while in federal custody since 2010.
The girl, whose identity has not been made public yet, reportedly had a history of congenital heart defects when she was first placed under the care of an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facility in Texas back in March 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees ORR.
Mark Weber, an HHS spokesperson, told CBS News that the girl died due to fever and respiratory distress, months after complications stemming from a surgical procedure left her in a coma. It's unclear why the government did not release this information to the public then.
"It is unacceptable that the nation is hearing about this tragedy for the first time eight months after her death, and it raises serious questions about how many other migrant children’s deaths the Trump administration either doesn't know about, doesn't care about, or is sweeping under the rug," Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of Families Belong Together, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "How many children are there that we don't know about? President Trump and his administration has their blood on his hands. Congress must investigate this nefarious pattern of tragic deaths immediately."
On Wednesday, Rep. Lauren Underwood, the freshman Democrat from Illinois, said she believes the Trump administration is making an intentional policy choice given the recent spike in children's deaths at the border.
"The evidence is really clear that this is intentional," Underwood said during the testimony of acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. "It's intentional. It's a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it's cruel and inhumane."
In the past six months, five other migrant children have died while in federal custody. Their deaths have only intensified questions about the dire conditions in immigrant detention centers across the country and whether federal agents are equipped to take care of the most vulnerable detainees. In the past month, 16-year-old Carlos Hernandez Vasquez died of influenza, 2-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez died of pneumonia after being hospitalized for several weeks, and 16-year-old Juan de León Gutiérrez died following an infection. In December, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died within weeks of each other.
"Medical care for children in particular can be highly specialized," Victoria Lopez, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project, previously told Refinery29. "There are serious questions about whether the Department of Homeland Security and the Health and Human Services Department, which detain immigrant children, are in a position to provide the level of medical and mental-health care that immigrant children might need in detention."
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