Migrant boy who died in U.S. left Guatemala’s migrant heartland

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – An eight-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody this week had trekked to the border with his father from a rural northwestern village, Guatemala’s government said on Wednesday, following thousands of others who have made the area a hot spot of migration.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in San Diego County, U.S., are seen through a hole on the metallic border wall between United States and Mexico, photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

Felipe Gomez Alonzo and his father, Agustin, 47, came from the municipality of Nenton in Huehuetenango province, said Guatemalan foreign ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra.

Gomez was the second child to die this month in U.S. custody after crossing from Mexico, following the death in early December of 7-year-old Guatemalan Jakelin Caal.

His parents, who speak a Maya language called Chuj and little Spanish, have requested an autopsy be done as quickly as possible so the body can be repatriated to Guatemala, Larra said. The results are expected in about a week, she added.

Most families in Nenton are of indigenous origin and subsist on corn and bean farming, as well as money sent back from relatives working in the United States and Mexico, according to a local government report.

Huehuetenango sends the highest numbers of migrants abroad from Guatemala every year, Larra said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not released an official cause of the boy’s death.

The Border Patrol will begin conducting secondary medical checks on all children in custody, focusing on those under 10 years old, CBP said. The agency is also reviewing options for releasing migrants to temporary housing and is considering bringing in “surge” medical assistance from other agencies.

The father and son were detained on Dec. 18 in El Paso, Texas, for illegally entering the country, the agency said.

They were given hot food, snacks, juice and water, and two days later, were transferred to the El Paso Border Patrol Station, the CBP said. On Dec. 23, they were transferred to the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station in New Mexico.

On the morning of Dec. 24, an agent noticed the boy “was coughing and appeared to have glossy eyes,” the CBP said, and the father and son were transferred to a nearby hospital.

The boy was found to have a fever and cold but was released with a prescription for an antibiotic and Ibuprofen. That evening, Felipe started vomiting, and his father declined medical help because his son had been feeling better, CBP said.

A few hours later, the boy again began feeling nauseous and was taken back to the hospital, where he died just before midnight. CBP previously reported he had died early on Tuesday.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Sofia Menchu in San Antonio Secortez, Guatemala and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington

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