- The deaths of two young migrant children in Border Patrol custody last month have sparked outrage and confusion, with critics asking how children could grow so ill in government detention without immediate access to care.
- A pediatric doctor and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s not uncommon for children’s symptoms to go unnoticed by medical personnel who don’t have specialized pediatric training.
- Dr. Colleen Kraft spoke to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in late December, and urged him to allow trained pediatricians into the facilities to care for children and make recommendations on the conditions.
- A CBP spokesman told INSIDER the agency intends to seek AAP’s input going forward.
The deaths of two young migrant children in Border Patrol custody in December have embroiled the Trump administration in controversy for weeks, raising questions over how two children could grow severely ill in detention before accessing emergency medical care.
According to Dr. Colleen Kraft, a pediatrician with 29 years of experience and the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s not surprising that staff at the Border Patrol facilities didn’t notice the children’s illnesses immediately when their symptoms developed – and she said that highlights the agency’s dire lack of medical personnel with specialized pediatric training.
Though the children’s causes of death haven’t yet been released, medical examiners have said Felipe tested positive for the flu.
In both Jakelin and Felipe’s cases, their families have insisted they were healthy on their journeys to the US, and only grew ill while they were in custody.
Government timelines also showed that the two children presented no urgent health concerns when they were first arrested after crossing the border, though top officials like Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have argued that migrant children often become sick during the long trek from Central America.
But Border Patrol agents conducted an “initial screening” in Jakelin’s case that raised no medical problems, and more than two dozen “welfare checks” in Felipe’s case determined he was safe and secure.
Felipe’s father even reportedly told family members his son’s sudden illness caught him off guard. Felipe’s stepsister, Catarina Gomez Lucas, told the Associated Press that Felipe “was fine all day” and “playing with other children” until he suddenly got a stomach ache.
“That is very typical,” Kraft said, adding that it takes special training to tell the difference between a mildly sick child and a severely sick one.
“I recall once seeing a child who was having a severe asthma attack, and he was trying to crack jokes the whole time … But if you hadn’t lifted his shirt to see how hard he was breathing, you would never have known he was sick,” she said. “The signs are subtle.”
An expert says staff don’t have the necessary training to care for the growing number of migrant children arriving in the US
Kraft said she didn’t blame any of the medical personnel who treated Jakelin and Felipe – they simply don’t have the pediatric training necessary to care for the growing number of migrant children arriving in the US.
In the wake of the children’s deaths, the US Department of Homeland Security ordered secondary medical checks on all children in Border Patrol’s custody. The agency even enlisted the US Coast Guard, Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control, and other agencies for help investigating the children’s illnesses and preventing more deaths.
But Kraft was skeptical of the measures, noting that it’s unclear what those secondary medical checks consist of. She said they could ultimately prove ineffective if they’re being conducted by staff without pediatric training.
“When an adult gets sick, they slow down, they rest, they don’t look very active, where a child might run around and play, even as he or she is getting sicker,” Kraft said. “It takes a trained eye.”
Kraft said she spoke with Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in late December, and told him about the specific challenges with treating migrant children as opposed to adults. She said she views their discussion as a “positive first step.”
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed to INSIDER that McAleenan and Kraft had discussed the matter, and that McAleenan would continue to seek her organization’s input going forward.
“We have 67,000 medical experts,” Kraft said. “Use our expertise. Allow us unfettered access to these facilities. Allow us to train your personnel. Allow us to monitor and make recommendations on these conditions, and we can help you out.”
The partial government shutdown has reached its 18th day as President Donald Trump continues to demand Congress approve $5 billion to build his border wall. Trump is set to visit the border town of McAllen, Texas, on Thursday, the site of Border Patrol’s largest processing facility that regularly holds hundreds of migrant children with their parents.
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