The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Blame Trump’s neglect for the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

Bartolome Hernandez, left, and Rigoberta Vasquez, parents of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the 16-year-old migrant who died in May in immigration custody in Texas, at their house in San Jose del Rodeo village in Guatemala. (Orlando Estrada/AFP via Getty Images)

Sixteen-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died horribly and needlessly. The Trump administration’s policy of deliberate, punishing cruelty toward Latin American migrants killed him.

That is the only conclusion to be drawn from a shocking report by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica about Hernandez’s death in May at a U.S. Border Patrol station in Texas. I assume the agents and health-care workers who should have given Hernandez lifesaving attention are decent human beings, not monsters. But they work within an intentionally monstrous system that assigned no value to a young Guatemalan boy’s life.

President Trump’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies are not grounds for impeachment; rather, they are an urgent reason to defeat him in the coming election. But at least six migrant children, including Hernandez, have died in federal custody on Trump’s watch. Somebody should be held accountable. Somebody should go to jail.

Hernandez died of influenza and neglect.

He had crossed the Rio Grande without documents with a group of migrants who were almost immediately apprehended by the Border Patrol. In keeping with administration policy, he was separated from his adult sister and processed at a notoriously overcrowded holding facility in McAllen, Tex., where a nurse practitioner found he had a temperature of 103. She diagnosed him with the flu and said he should be taken to a hospital if his condition worsened.

Instead, worried he might infect others at the McAllen center, officials moved him to a Border Patrol station in nearby Weslaco and locked him in a cell. That was on the afternoon of May 19. By the following morning, Hernandez was dead.

Border Patrol logs show that agents checked on Hernandez several times that night. But ProPublica obtained cellblock video showing that “the only way . . . officials could have missed Carlos’ crisis is that they weren’t looking.”

The video “shows Carlos writhing for at least 25 minutes on the floor and a concrete bench,” ProPublica reported. “It shows him staggering to the toilet and collapsing on the floor, where he remained in the same position for the next four and a half hours.”

Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, claimed that Hernandez’s lifeless body was discovered by agents doing a morning check. But the video shows, according to ProPublica, that it was Hernandez’s cellmate who sent up the alarm.

“On the video, the cellmate can be seen waking up and groggily walking to the toilet, where Carlos was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. He [the roommate] gestures for help at the cell door. Only then do agents enter the cell and discover that Carlos had died during the night.”

Let that sink in for a moment. A 16-year-old boy has obviously fallen ill and has a soaring fever. Instead of seeking medical care for him, agents of the United States government — acting in your name and mine — leave him to die on the cold concrete floor of a detention cell.

Hernandez’s death implies more than the apparent negligence of a few overworked Border Patrol agents. It indicts a whole system designed by the Trump administration to deter would-be migrants and asylum seekers by punishing those who do make the journey.

In Hernandez’s case, the fatal punishment was meted out illegally. He had been in custody for six days when he died, but the Border Patrol is only supposed to hold children for 72 hours, at most, before transferring them to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Trump administration instituted a shockingly inhumane policy of separating migrant parents from their children, who in many cases were sent hundreds of miles away. Thousands of children were warehoused in cages, like animals. Toddlers and infants were absurdly expected to represent themselves at immigration hearings whose nature they could not begin to understand.

It is true that officials have had to deal with a flood of migrants who overwhelmed border facilities and personnel. But the Trump administration responded to the surge not with compassion but with purposeful callousness. It is horrific that six migrant children are known to have died in Customs and Border Protection custody since September 2018. It is even worse when you realize there were no such deaths, not a single one, during the eight years of the Obama administration.

According to ProPublica’s report, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez was a bright and engaging boy who captained his school’s soccer team in the village of San Jose del Rodeo. The Border Patrol assigned him the alien identification number A203665141. His body was shipped home for burial.

Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: Customs and Border Protection’s death toll

The Post’s View: Only now do we understand the true cruelty of Trump’s family separation

The Post’s View: Trump’s family separations suggest that humane and decent conduct is optional

The Post’s View: Trump’s latest anti-immigrant gambit: Family separation 2.0

The Post’s View: Trump’s Family Separation 2.0 comes at a cost to immigrants and the government

Helaine Olen: Trump still won’t take responsibility for reuniting separated families

Submit a question for Eugene Robinson’s Dec. 10 live chat

Read a transcript of Eugene Robinson’s Dec. 3 live chat: Vice President Kamala Harris?