(CNSNews.com) - Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan told Congress Thursday that while not every child in custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has access to a pediatrician, he has directed that all children in CBP custody to be screened by a “certified medical professional.”
During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the resources needed to secure the U.S. homeland, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) questioned McAleenan on CBP policy of providing emergency care to migrant children after news broke Wednesday that a 6th child has died while in CBP custody last year.
The 10-year-old girl from El Salvador, died on Sept. 29 at an Omaha, Neb., hospital of fever and respiratory distress, KTLA reports. Her death was previously unreported.
PETERS: Last evening, it was reported that a young girl from El Salvador died last year while in custody, but her death was undisclosed publicly until last night, which made her now the 6th migrant child to die after crossing the southern border in less than a year,” Peters said.
Now we all agree that we must absolutely secure our borders, but the death of children - and I know you agree with this - the death of children in custody is simply unacceptable, but first we must identify what went wrong and ensure that this doesn’t happen again, so some brief questions.Yes or no, does every child in CBP custody have access to a pediatrician?
PETERS: Does the CBP have clear protocols regarding the transfer of children to a hospital when presenting acute symptoms, especially when we look at the aggressive nature of this flu outbreak that we’re seeing along the border?
MCALEENAN: Yes and as commissioner, I directed that all children coming into our custody be screened by a certified medical professional, and that’s what we’ve taken steps to accomplish - both with our extension of our contract to get medical professionals into our facilities as well as partnering with U.S. Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commission Corps, and that effort is extensive and ongoing with 65 people being brought to the hospital everyday, watched and supported by agents and officers, so this is a massive effort going on on the border to protect children, and I know we have saved dozens and dozens of lives over the past several months.
PETERS: Although there’s been cases-- in fact, we have a recent case of a 16-year-old who passed away who was not taken to the hospital, so there are obviously gaps that have to be filled.
MCALEENAN: He was both screened and offered medical care, and we’re going to look forward to the findings of the inspector general to see if we can do better. And one of the key areas there though I’ve got to highlight is the fact that HHS does not have enough funding for bed space for teenage males, and that’s the main arriving unaccompanied child right now, so we are not able to move teenage males as expeditiously as we should be to the better situation for care within Health and Human Services, and we need that help from Congress in the supplemental.
PETERS: I’ve asked many of your colleagues in prior DHS leadership, and I’ll ask you again today, how long is too long to detain a child?
MCALEENAN: So detention for a child is for the safety of the child. That’s the only reason to do it. We don’t believe that children should be detained in Border Patrol stations very long at all. We’d like to move them as swiftly as possible to Health and Human Services to a more appropriate setting for unaccompanied children where they can be placed with an appropriate sponsor through HHS’s processes, and I think that’s the best approach. I’d like to get that to 24 hours to 48 hours and try to comply at all times with the standard in the Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Protection Act, which is 72 hours.
PETERS: I get the sense you’re saying anytime is really too long to detain a child, so you try to--
MCALEENAN:An unaccompanied child. A child arriving with a parent I do believe we should be able to have it an appropriate setting with access to educational, recreational space, and medical care, in a courtroom where we can finish an immigration proceeding upon arrival at the border as opposed to not finishing that. As quickly as possible, yes. There’s no desire to detain children in any capacity for very long at all.