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Teen migrant who died inside Border Patrol cell was in distress for hours, per newly released video

Shocking scenes of the teen's final hours came to light on Thursday when ProPublica released the surveillance video of the holding facility cell.

Teen migrant who died inside Border Patrol cell was in distress for hours, per newly released video

On May 20, 2019, 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez helplessly writhed in agony inside a Border Patrol cell for about 25 minutes before he collapsed on the concrete floor. The flu-ridden teen remained in the same position for the next four and a half hours before his cellmate discovered his lifeless body and alerted the guards. The shocking scenes of Carlos' final hours came to light on Thursday when ProPublica released the surveillance video of the Weslaco, Texas holding facility cell, raising serious questions about the Trump administration's treatment of immigrant families.


The disturbing footage directly contradicts Customs and Border Protections' account of the teen's death and sheds further light on the inhumane conditions in which immigrants are held at these detention centers. In a press release on May 20, the CBP stated that Carlos was found unresponsive during a welfare check; however, the newly released footage clearly reveals that this wasn't the case. The video shows the 16-year-old laying down on a cement bench where he shifts and moves around in clear distress before collapsing face down on the ground. He remains on the floor—hardly moving—for almost 10 minutes before he can summon the strength to get up.


He staggers over to the toilet where he is seen collapsing to the floor again. The video shows Carlos moving for a few minutes on the ground before he goes limp. He remains in this position for over 4 hours before his cellmate wakes up at 6:05 a.m. to discover him unresponsive. According to KABC-TV, the unidentified cellmate quickly alerted a Border Patrol agent and a physician's assistant about Carlos. The physician's assistant reportedly attempted a single chest compression before pronouncing the teen dead.


Carlos' death occurred days after he crossed into the US and was apprehended by immigration officials. He'd been waiting to be transferred to the custody of the Health and Human Services Department when he was diagnosed with the flu and taken to the Weslaco facility—where he was put in a holding cell with another sick boy on the afternoon of May 19. The nurse practitioner who examined the teen had informed the Border Patrol agents that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened. None of this happened.



In a statement released on the day of the Guatemalan teen's death, CBP's acting commissioner at the time, John Sanders, said, "The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are saddened by the tragic loss of this young man and our condolences are with his family. CBP is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody." Unfortunately, this commitment clearly wasn't extended to Carlos in his final hours as he was left to die in his cell.



Contrary to what is seen in the video, a "subject activity log" maintained by the CBP throughout the teen's custody claims an agent checked on him three times during the early morning hours of the morning as he slipped from unconsciousness to death. If so, why didn't they raise alarms about Carlos' condition? The coroner who performed an autopsy on the deceased teen informed ProPublica that she was told the agent merely looked into the cell through the window occasionally.



When asked about the teen's death following the surveillance video's release, a CBP spokesperson told CNN that the investigation was ongoing. "While we cannot discuss specific information or details of this investigation, we can tell you that the Department of Homeland Security and this agency are looking into all aspects of this case to ensure all procedures were followed," said the spokesperson. The autopsy listed Carlos' cause of death as flu respiratory infection, complicated by bronchopneumonia, sepsis, and an immune system disorder.



Dr. Judy Melinek, a San Francisco-based forensic pathologist who reviewed records of the teen's death, condemned the way CBP treated the boy. "Why is a teenaged boy in a jail facility at all if he is sick with a transmissible illness? Why isn’t he at a hospital or at a home or clinic where he can get a warm bed, fluids, supervised attention and medical care? He is not a criminal. No one should die this way: vomiting, with a fever and without the comfort of a caregiver," she said.



Representative Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, called the CBP's behavior in the child's death "inexcusable" in a statement. "Today's report calls into serious question the steps U.S. Customs and Border Protection claims to have taken to care for a child in its custody. Not only did CBP hold Carlos longer than the legal limit and apparently fail to care for him while he was sick, the agency seems to have been untruthful with Congress and the public about the circumstances around his tragic death," said Thompson.


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