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US Democrats turn blind eye on migrant children dying in custody

Asylum seekers stand near the border wall after crossing the Rio Bravo river with the intention of turning themselves in to the US Border Patrol agents, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 30, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

US Democrats have been largely quiet about the issue of asylum-seeking children dying in US custody on President Joe Biden's watch despite local and international media calling for their attention in this regard.

Last week, media reports said another refugee child died in Border Patrol custody as US agents ignored calls for medical attention.

The death of an 8-year-old girl in the custody of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the southern state of Texas, just days after a 17-year-old boy died in Florida in the custody of the US Department of Health and Human Services, has raised human rights and children's rights activists' concerns.

Democratic lawmakers, however, seemed not to be stirred by the deaths, even though some of them voiced criticisms against the Trump administration in 2018 when two migrant children died in US custody.

Back then, they had demanded that the then-US president Donald Trump launch an official investigation into the cause of the children’s deaths to stop further occurrences in the future.

However, even during Joe Biden's presidency, the leftist lawmakers would remain largely quiet about the plight of hapless refugees arriving at the US border.

Rep. Lauren Underwood, an Illinois Democrat, said the fact that migrant children were dying while in custody in the United States was "unacceptable."

Asked in an interview on Face the Nation last Sunday about her viewpoint on migrant children dying in US custody, the Black lawmaker insisted that, "we shouldn't have children dying in our custody."

"And we have to continue to make sure that there is robust support along the border for those institutions—those agencies that are caring for migrant children, to making sure that they are getting the needed medical care. And I'm certainly focused on doing a thorough investigation of these deaths," Underwood added.

She told the Sun-Times in a Thursday interview, “I think it’s really important that we work together as the Democratic caucus, to make sure that we are effectively communicating our achievements, our shared values and a strong contrast with the House Republicans, to our communities that we serve."

Earlier this year, Democrats had expressed their concern in a letter to Biden about introducing rules that would make it harder for migrants to seek asylum.

They also opposed the expansion of Title 42, a COVID-era order that had allowed the swift expulsion of many migrants.

Title 42, which expired on May 11, has been described by rights watchdogs as an unlawful and xenophobic Trump-era policy that weaponized public health to prevent vulnerable migrants from seeking asylum in the US.

The Democratic Congress members who voiced concerns over the Biden administration’s shortness in dealing with the issues affecting asylum seekers included Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, Vermont Senator Peter Welch, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

American activists defending the rights of migrants have called for an end to the detention of unaccompanied refugee minors.

Since 2018, at least nine unaccompanied refugee children have died at the migrant detention camps set up by US government agencies.

Medics cite the underlying health conditions of the refugee children in US border custody, who mostly hail from Central America -- worsened by the arduous journey to reach the US with little access to clean shelter and proper provisions on the trip -- as the main factors causing the deaths.

"Children are not like adults. They get sick more quickly and each hour of delay can be associated with serious complications," said Dr. Julie Linton, co-chair of the immigrant health special interest group at the American Academy of Pediatrics, in an interview with US media.

The cruel treatment of migrant children is triggering major concerns by numerous rights groups, though it never led to meaningful legal actions to hold US officials accountable for the brutal policy.

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