Peters grills acting DHS secretary over child deaths at border

    Detained immigrants
    Detained migrants are loaded into a U.S. Border Patrol van at the border of the United States and Mexico on March 31, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) pointedly questioned acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan Thursday morning over the state of medical care for minors apprehended at the southern U.S. border.

    The senator’s cross-examination transformed a routine committee hearing into a referendum over the Trump administration’s controversial border policies.

    When asked by Peters if every child detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the southern border has access to pediatric care, McAleenan answered simply, “No.”

    McAleenan protested in favor of his department’s recent efforts to improve in an area that’s become a major concern for those on both sides of the immigration debate, saying that they compose “a massive effort going on at the border to protect children, and I know we have saved dozens and dozens of lives over the past several months.”

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers listen to President Donald J. Trump, January 10, 2019, near the U.S. Border Patrol McAllen Station in McAllen, Texas. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Flickr

    “We had a recent case of a 16-year-old that passed away who was not taken to a hospital, so there are obviously gaps that have to be filled,” Peters replied.

    Peters was referring to the case of the Guatemalan migrant Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, who was found dead Monday morning in a south Texas detention center after medical care providers there declined to take him to a hospital.

    A CBP official told NBC News that numerous law enforcement agencies, including the DHS Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are investigating the death.

    The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing was held Thursday morning to discuss the President Trump administration’s 2020 budget request for the agency, but covered topics from federal emergency response efforts to immigration enforcement.

    U.S. Sen. Gary Peters | Andrew Roth

    Peters, the committee’s ranking member, touted during the hearing a bill he introduced in April with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would authorize the hiring of 600 new CBP officers to meet security and staffing concerns as the Trump administration moves resources to the southern border.

    That bill, the Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019, has not yet been sent to committee, which is the first step for legislation.

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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