Democratic lawmakers call for hearings, legislation after second child dies in immigration custody – NBCNews.com

By Daniella Silva

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called for congressional hearings after the deaths of two migrant children in U.S. custody in one month and said they were working to draft legislation requiring health standards for immigration agencies.

“We believe there should be a congressional investigation as soon as Congress comes back into session,” Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Tex., the incoming chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said on a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. He added that “systemic failures” at immigration agencies were contributing “to serious injury and illness and to the deaths of these migrants.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., called on immigration authorities to conduct more “meaningful medical screenings” after the deaths of 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez on Christmas Eve and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin earlier this month. The Trump administration has yet to name the boy who died, but Congressional Democrats identified him as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez.

Those medical screenings would include a questionnaire, a review of any symptoms, medical history, a check of a migrant’s vital signs and consultation with medical personnel, Ruiz said.

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“We need to think like physicians and think like humanitarian aid specialists and we need to match the response to the needs that we are seeing,” he said.

Castro said Ruiz was also working on drafting legislation that would set “basic or minimum health care standards” for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement as migrants make their way through immigration custody.

CBP said Tuesday that the 8-year-old died minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve in New Mexico from unknown causes. His death followed that of Jakelin, who died on Dec. 8. Her body arrived in her home country of Guatemala on Monday.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.Alex Edelman / Getty Images file

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the incoming speaker, also called for a congressional investigation into the deaths.

“Democrats call on Homeland Security’s Inspector General to immediately open an investigation into Felipe Alzono-Gomez’s death,” she said in a statement. “The Congress will also investigate this tragedy and the heartbreaking death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, to seek justice and ensure that no other child is left to such a fate.”

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Wednesday that she has asked the Coast Guard Medical Corps to assess CBP’s medical programs and make recommendations for improvements. Both CBP and ICE are under the Department of Homeland Security.

“This tragedy, the death of a child in government custody is deeply concerning and heartbreaking,” she said.