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More About A Teenage Migrant Who Died In U.S. Custody At A Texas Hospital


Many lawmakers and policy experts agree that the surge of migrants at the southern U.S. border has become a crisis. And as the number of families and children apprehended by Border Patrol grows, so do questions about how to keep them safe while in custody. A 16-year-old boy died in Corpus Christi last week, the third migrant child to die in U.S. custody since December. For more on this and for more on the status of other child migrants, we're joined by Aura Bogado. She's an investigative reporter at the news organization Reveal. Thanks for being here.

AURA BOGADO: Thanks for having me, David.

GREENE: I definitely want to start with the 16-year-old who died in custody recently. What do we know about him and what happened?

BOGADO: So we know that his name was Juan de Leon Gutierrez, and his family called him Juanito. He's from a rural community in Guatemala called Camotan, and that's in the department of Chiquimula. And it's a place that's experienced pretty severe drought, likely from extreme effects of climate change.

And what we understand from his family and from officials in both countries is that Juanito had left Guatemala in early April and made his way north to El Paso, where he was taken into custody by Border Patrol agents on April 19. And the following day, on the 20 of April, ICE - or likely its private contractor - took him to a shelter contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. And this shelter is operated by Southwest Key, which is also a private contractor. And it's located in Brownsville, Texas. And 10 days later, Juanito died in a Corpus Christi children's hospital.

Something new that I think that I can share with listeners today is that a couple of sources who are close to what's happening have told me that Juanito likely died from what's called a puffy tumor. It's not cancerous. But it's - instead, it's a pretty severe swelling that happens right in the frontal lobe, sort of in the forehead area. And it can be caused by a sinus infection or from trauma. And puffy tumor isn't - it's not all that common. But when we do see it, it most likely affects people who are around Juanito's age. And we also know that it's treatable...

GREENE: And did they just miss this? I mean, what are the conditions at the facility in terms of - I don't know - the medical care to catch something like this and make sure it's treated so it doesn't get to the point where he dies?

BOGADO: Right. Well, that's a great question. And we still haven't confirmed what's happened. But puffy tumor is treatable. It's life-threatening, and it certainly can kill. But it is treatable with antibiotics. It just has to be diagnosed in time. And then, you know, in terms of the facilities, we don't know exactly what happened when at which facility, right? This is a child who's being passed from one agency to another, to another, to another. There's private contractors in between...

GREENE: And then to a hospital.


GREENE: Well, is there something we can learn from Juanito's case? I mean, you have children on this treacherous journey, maybe with medical conditions. They're in - I mean, walking on foot for hundreds of miles. Is there something the government could be doing to make sure that they stay healthy or that conditions like this are caught in time?

BOGADO: There probably very likely is. As you know, that - he is the third child that has died in the last five months that we know of. I say that we know of because we don't know how many children have died crossing the border. We do know that, as there has been increased enforcement on the border, death also increases. But those little bones we may not find ever, or we may not find them for five or 10 years.

But in terms of what may improve in terms of custody, it probably is at each and every single point. And again, it's important to keep in mind that we have an enforcement answer for a social crisis. These are children and adults who are coming here to seek refuge from problems often not of their own making. And again, the focus keeps being enforcement and to try to tackle these huge social issues.

GREENE: Aura Bogado is an investigative reporter with the news organization Reveal. She spoke to us on Skype. Thanks so much.

BOGADO: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 5, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
In a previous version of this story and headline, we incorrectly said that a 16-year-old died at a facility for migrant children. In fact, he died at the hospital.