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World & Nation

Congolese woman dies after entering U.S. border custody

Laredo, Texas
The Customs and Border Protection office in Laredo, Texas.
(Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP-Getty Images)

A 41-year-old Congolese woman died Wednesday in U.S. government custody shortly after she entered a border station in south Texas, Customs and Border Protection said Thursday.

The agency said the woman, whom it did not identify, had arrived at an official port of entry in Laredo, Texas, early Tuesday afternoon. The woman came with paperwork that documented a “previous medical condition,” Customs and Border Protection said. The agency’s medical personnel cleared her to be detained overnight.

According to the agency, the woman told officers early Wednesday that “she was suffering from abdominal pain and had vomited.” The agency says it contacted emergency personnel “immediately” and had her taken to a hospital.

“The subject’s health declined rapidly and she passed away at the hospital,” a statement said.

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Customs and Border Protection did not disclose the woman’s preexisting medical condition or whether she had tried to enter the U.S. previously. Agents at official crossings between the U.S. and Mexico have stopped tens of thousands of asylum seekers from entering the country under policies enacted by the Trump administration, limiting crossings at many ports to just a few people daily and forcing others to wait in Mexico.

The agency says the Webb County medical examiner “has determined that the death is not suspicious, as the individual had a preexisting medical condition.”

Customs and Border Protection declined to answer follow-up questions about the case. The medical examiner’s office and the embassy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Washington did not return messages Thursday.

At least 11 people died this year after entering CBP’s custody, according to statements posted on the agency’s website. Those people include a 16-year-old teenager from Guatemala who died of the flu inside a Border Patrol cell in Weslaco, Texas, in May. Surveillance video later showed Hernandez had been lying unresponsive for several hours despite the agency’s claims that it did regular checks on him.

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The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general last week cleared CBP of any wrongdoing in the deaths of two children last December, 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Both cases raised questions about whether the children received medical care quickly enough.

Jakelin was not transported from a remote border outpost to a larger Border Patrol station for seven hours. Felipe was taken to a hospital in New Mexico with a fever, released, than taken with his father to a holding facility at a highway checkpoint. Several hours later, after agents had helped clean up his vomit, he was taken back to a hospital where he soon died.


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