Family of 8-Year-Old Immigrant Boy Who Died in U.S. Custody Speaks Out: He 'Always Wanted a Bicycle'
Days after 8-year-old Guatemalan immigrant Felipe Alonzo Gomez died in the hospital on Christmas Day while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, his family is sharing their dashed hopes for him and mourning their loss.
“We heard rumors that they could pass [into the United States]. They said they could pass with the children,” Catarina Gomez Lucas, Felipe’s 21-year-old stepsister, explained to the Associated Press as to why the boy’s father, Agustin, brought him on the journey from Central America.
Lucas added that Agustin thought taking Felipe to the U.S. would give him more “opportunity,” so he took him along with some clothing, new shoes and all the money he had.
She told the AP that the pair was focused on escaping the poverty of their hometown and were “very happy to leave.”
“[Felipe] always wanted a bicycle,” she said.
According to local newspaper Pensa Libre, the father and son were detained on Dec. 18 after crossing the U.S. border in El Paso, Texas. They were then transferred to Alamogordo, New Mexico, where Felipe later died.
His mother, Catarina Alonzo Perez, told Pensa Libre that she wanted his remains brought back to her.
“I need to see him soon and I’m very sad because he died,” she said.
Perez also expressed her confusion to the AP about how he could have died — because her son appeared in good health when he departed. “He wasn’t sick on the way; he wasn’t sick here,” she said.
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When Agustin called on Christmas to say Felipe had died, he also told them the boy had been “fine all day, that he was playing with other children. But then he said he felt bad and his stomach ached,” Felipe’s stepsister told the AP.
Lucas also recalled that Felipe told his father not to cry because he “was not going to get better.”
On Monday, Felipe and Agustin were taken to the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo after a border patrol agent observed that the boy was sick.
“The child was initially diagnosed by hospital staff with a common cold, and when evaluated for release, hospital staff found a fever,” government officials previously said in a news release. “The child was held for an additional 90 minutes for observation and then released from the hospital mid-afternoon on December 24 with prescriptions for amoxicillin and Ibuprofen.”
On Monday evening, however, the boy was nauseous and vomited. He returned to the medical center, where he died after midnight.
An autopsy found that he had the flu at the time of death, but more tests are needed to determine the official cause of death, according to the AP.
Felipe’s death comes the same month as the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who also died in U.S. custody, according to The New York Times.
President Donald Trump has made restricting immigration at the southern border — both illegal and legal, including those seeking asylum — a central policy of his administration, arguing it is needed to protect American lives, over protest from advocates that such efforts are grossly inhumane.
Jakelin and her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, were taken into custody on Dec. 6 after crossing the U.S. border into New Mexico. She died in the hospital on Dec. 8.
“Despite our trained EMT agents’ best efforts fighting for Jakelin’s life, and the work of the Hidalgo County and Providence Children’s Hospital medical teams treating her, we were unable to rescue her,” CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in a statement.
Her body was returned to Guatemala on Sunday, CNN reported.
Due to the ongoing government shutdown, spokespeople from CBP did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on Friday.