Border Patrol Officers Are Not Doctors

The United States is a nation of laws. Accordingly, whenever someone dies in the custody of an American law enforcement agency, citizens should be concerned. We expect those responsible for enforcing our laws to carry out their duties humanely and with respect for human dignity. And the vast majority of the time they do just that.

Nevertheless, the mainstream media has developed a very bad habit of harping on every medical tragedy experienced by a migrant in federal custody as evidence that the Department of Homeland Security is a wanton violator of human rights. Such claims support the ideologically-driven narrative that border enforcement is immoral and should be curtailed.

In the latest such report, The Hill breathlessly decries the death of another migrant in  Customs and Border Protection custody (CBP). According to The Hill, “This is the third death in the agency’s custody since December, when two children from Guatemala died within weeks of each other.” The clear implication is that CBP is negligent and uncaring in its handling of sick detainees.

But that’s an implication woefully bereft of context. . As noted in a CBP press release, the “migrant” who died succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver and congestive heart failure. Cirrhosis is typically the result of chronic alcoholism (or untreated hepatitis). And congestive heart failure is usually a side effect of coronary artery disease. None of those are conditions one develops in the relatively brief period during which people are held in immigration custody.

What killed the two Guatemalan children? Well, The Hill never does get around to explaining that. It only makes the inflammatory claim that, “The deaths were widely condemned, and prompted the Department of Homeland Security to begin conducting secondary medical checks on children in the agency’s custody.” The major concern appears to be perpetuating the narrative that CBP is evil, not presenting the facts.

In reality, both children died from complications of sicknesses they appear to have contracted before being taken into CBP custody – not from illness that developed due to conditions where they were detained. And CBP personnel appear to have been at pains to ensure that both children received proper medical attention:

  • Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died in a Texas hospital, where CBP officers had taken him after they noticed, during a welfare check, that he was coughing and had “glossy eyes.”
  • Jakelin Caal Maquin succumbed to chronic dehydration, which likely developed while traveling to the U.S., shortly after being taken into custody by Border Patrol Agents. She died in a hospital where she had been transported by EMS personnel after her father asked CBP agents for medical assistance.

Law enforcement officers, due to the nature of their job, constantly come in contact with people who are not in the best of health – the sick, the aged, chronic substance abusers, the mentally ill. Most local cops, however, are within a few minutes’ drive of a local hospital and within easy reach of ambulance crews. And they have the luxury of turning over the gravely ill – and the responsibility for them – to medical professionals.

Due to the unique conditions under which it works, however, CBP often has no choice but to take deathly ill people into custody in order to ensure that they receive proper medical attention. That situation is further complicated by the fact that many of the people encountered by CBP officers have never had proper medical or dental care – e.g., vaccinations, screening for basic health issues, antibiotics, etc.

As it is, we ask a lot from the law enforcement professionals charged with securing our borders. Expecting them to achieve the level of medical training and expertise necessary to detect illnesses that might stump an experienced ER doctor is just one ideologically-motivated bridge too far.





About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar
    Stephen Russell on

    Maybe they need BP Teams & one is X trained as EMT?? minimum.
    & GPS nearest clinic, hospital to area??
    IF warranted.

  2. avatar

    the people that are bashing ICE need to wake the hell up…those 3 illegal aliens had their illnesses BEFORE they started coming to the US…quit spreading lies, MF’s

  3. avatar

    Both those conditions, congestive heart failure and cirrhosis, are the end stage of problems that take years to develop. It’s absurd to think the Border Patrol caused this. Plus they are overwhelmed with large groups that the open border advocates insist be allowed into the country and go to court to make sure that happens.