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.