Border Patrol is confiscating migrant kids' medicine, U.S. doctors say

For the past year and a half, Dr. Eric Russell has been traveling from Houston to McAllen, Texas, every three months or so to volunteer at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center, a first stop for many asylum-seeking migrants who’ve been released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Rio Grande Valley.

During his most recent visit to the clinic in April, when he saw more than 150 migrants, he noted a troubling new trend: a number of people reported that their medication had been taken from them by U.S. border officials.

“I had a few adults that came who had high blood pressure, who had their blood pressure medications taken from them and, not surprisingly, their blood pressure was elevated,” Russell told Yahoo News. “There was a couple of adults that had diabetes that had their diabetes medicines taken from them, and wanted to come in because they were worried about their blood sugar. And, not surprisingly, their blood sugar was elevated.”

For Russell, a pediatric emergency medicine physician, the patient who stood out the most during that visit was a boy of 8 or 9 with a history of seizures. According to his mother, the child had been on a long-term seizure medicine in their home country, but the medication had been taken from him upon entering the Border Patrol custody in McAllen and never returned.

“The mom came to the clinic because she was concerned that he was going to have a seizure,” said Russell. He wasn’t sure exactly how long they’d been in custody — “usually it's a matter of days,” he said, “but with seizure medicines, that’s enough.”

Fortunately, by the time they made contact with Russell, the boy had not yet had a seizure. But like most asylum-seeking families who pass through the respite center and other shelters like it along the border, McAllen was not their final destination but a stop along the journey — usually by bus — to join relatives or other sponsors elsewhere in the country.

“My concern is, what’s going to happen if you put a 9-year-old child who has a history of seizures, without any seizure medicine on a bus for 3 days ... is that he’s going to have a seizure,” Russell said.

Russell added that he can understand the need for a policy regarding the use of outside medication by detainees. However, he said, “At the end of the day, as a medical provider, as a physician, we take an oath to first do no harm. And taking somebody’s medications seems like it’s causing harm.”

“Somebody’s going to get hurt, if they haven’t already,” he added. “Or frankly, someone could die.”

18 PHOTOS
New mother's journey in the migrant caravan
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New mother's journey in the migrant caravan

Newborn Alvin Reyes sleeps next to his mother Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018.

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Maria Reyes, 6, wakes up next to her father Alvin Reyes and mother Erly Marcial, who is eight months pregnant, and her brother David, 2, after they spent the night with fellow migrants in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, touches his newborn son Alvin, next to his wife Erly Marcial, 21, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, organises her belongings next to her husband Alvin Reyes, 39, and their sons David, 2, and newborn Alvin, in the dormitory of a church where they are staying in Tijuana, Mexico, December 4, 2018. =

'(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, takes a bath in the river with her son David, 2, in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018.

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, lies on cardboard while she stays with her family and fellow migrants in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, carries her newborn son Alvin with her children, Maria, 6, and David, 2, while her husband Alvin Reyes buys bus tickets to Mexico City, at a bus station in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrants Erly Marcial, 21, and Alvin Reyes, 39, receive the Mexican birth certificate for their newborn son Alvin, in Puebla, Mexico, November 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, plays with her daughter Maria, 6, in the river in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, talks with doctors about the condition of his wife Erly Marcial, 21, who is eight months pregnant, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, takes a bath in the river next to her son David, 2, while they stay with fellow migrants in Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, is carried to a hospital on a stretcher in Puebla, Mexico, November 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, and her husband Alvin Reyes, 39, board a truck as they hitch a ride towards the U.S., in Santo Domingo Ingenio, Mexico, November 8, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, rests with fellow migrants on the road that links Tapanatepec and Santo Domingo Ingenio, near Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Eight months pregnant Honduran migrant Erly Marcial, 21, walks with her husband Alvin Reyes, 39, carrying their children David, 2, and Maria, 6, on the road that links Tapanatepec and Santo Domingo Ingenio, near Tapanatepec, Mexico, November 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, visits his wife Erly Marcial, 21, who is eight months pregnant, at a hospital in Puebla, Mexico, November 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Honduran migrant Alvin Reyes, 39, embraces his son David, 2, next to his daughter Maria, 6, in front of the police station in Pijijiapan, Mexico, November 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

A man jogs next to the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, December 10, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

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When Russell returned to Houston, he relayed his concerns to Dr. Marsha Griffin, who helps coordinate medical volunteers for the McAllen Respite Center.

Griffin, who also serves as co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, said that Russell’s experience reflected what she and other volunteer physicians had also been hearing from parents and children seeking medical care at the respite center in recent months.

“I don't know if it's gotten increasingly worse or if it's just something we're seeing more often because there's just so many families coming across,” said Griffin.

Yahoo News spoke to five doctors, including Russell and Griffin, who volunteer at shelters and clinics on the border and each confirmed that they regularly see migrants with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, seizures and high blood pressure, for which they claim to have had medication that was confiscated while they were in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and neither returned nor replaced. It happens more frequently to adults, who are more likely to be on such medications in the first place, but doctors said they’ve been hearing similar reports from increasing numbers of children or their parents.

For these doctors, all of whom are pediatricians, the seizing of medications heightens concerns about the medical care provided to the record numbers of children held at processing centers and short-term holding facilities along the southwest border.

According to CBP standards, any detainee who enters Border Patrol custody with medication prescribed outside the United States “should have the medication validated by a medical professional, or should be taken in a timely manner to a medical practitioner to obtain an equivalent U.S. prescription.”

A U.S. Border Patrol official told Yahoo News that, “detainees are not typically allowed to keep medications on their persons while in our care and custody.”

A CBP official with knowledge of the agency’s medical operations on the border explained this policy is for the safety of the detainees themselves.

“You can imagine a migrant or an alien comes across and maybe they have a bag or just a pocket full of pills and they say 'Oh, this is for my high blood pressure,'” the CBP official told Yahoo News. “There's no way of knowing what that is. It could be an illicit substance. It could be something that some unlicensed provider gave them on the other side of the border. It could be dangerous, it could be harmful.”

“So unless it is very clear that it is from a legitimate provider and that it's a legitimate medication,” he continued, “generally speaking, Border Patrol will confiscate that, but only in the context of making sure that alien or migrant is evaluated onsite or at a local hospital to identify what medication they need.” Once the migrant receives a diagnosis and a U.S. prescription, the official said, Border Patrol agents will then fill the prescription and dispense medication accordingly. “We do not have the migrants self-medicating while they're in holding.”

Claims that Border Patrol agents confiscate medications arbitrarily and deny access to necessary treatment are “clearly not true,” he insisted. “It's actually going above and beyond in terms of ensuring the safety and the security and also the medical appropriateness of the prescriptions and the dosing of the medicine. No one pays more attention and interest and is more dedicated to the health and well-being and the safety and security of the migrants in our custody than Border Patrol.”

Asked whether this process is always followed for every migrant who enters custody with medication, the CBP official said, “Yes, that is the standard practice.

“That’s bulls***,” said Dr. Carlos Gutierrez in response to the CBP official’s comments. “He’s lying to you.”

Gutierrez is an El Paso, Texas-based pediatrician who provides regular volunteer medical care to asylum seekers at various shelters throughout the Texas border city.

“You can ask providers who care for them day in and day out,” he continued. “We know that the medicines are taken away.”

A few weeks ago, for example, Gutierrez said that he treated a girl, approximately age 10, who had congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a genetic disorder that interferes with the body’s ability to naturally produce steroid hormones necessary “to be able to deal with stressful situations, like infections or stressful activities.”

Patients with this diagnosis “have to be put on steroids every day for the rest of life,” Gutierrez said. When this girl entered Border Patrol custody, he was told, her steroids were taken away as well as a couple of other medications she needed.

“This was a little walking time bomb,” said Gutierrez, estimating that the girl had been in custody for about a week before he saw her. He was able to provide her with enough of her steroid medication to last a week.

“That could've been a potentially deadly situation, taking away stuff like that from a child,” he said. “They can get by OK,” as long as they’re healthy. “But any infection or cold, it’ll kill them.”

“Fortunately, she was well, but if she had picked up strep or pneumonia without meds, she probably would’ve died en route,” he said — not an improbable scenario given how common such illnesses are among those Gutierrez sees after they’re released from custody.

19 PHOTOS
Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
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Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, passes his eight-month-old son Daniel through a hole under the U.S. border wall to his partner, Yesenia Martinez, 24, who had already crossed in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Central American migrants planning to surrender to U.S. border patrol agents climb over the U.S. border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, late Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in the Mexican city of Tijuana after undertaking a grueling, weeks-long journey to the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
In a photo taken from Playas of Tijuana, Mexico, Honduran migrants climb over a section of the U.S. border fence before handing themselves in to border control agents, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A steady trickle of Central American migrants have been finding ways to climb over, tunnel under or slip through the U.S. border wall to plant their feet on U.S. soil and ask for asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrants who jumped the border wall to the U.S. side, help other members of their families to jump the wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the United States, but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, feeds his eight-month-old son Daniel as his partner Yesenia Martinez, 24, crawls through a hole under the U.S. border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, carries her eight-month-old son Daniel as she looks for a place to cross the U.S. border wall to surrender to border patrol and request asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while her partner Joel Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman climbs the U.S. border wall, planning to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents and apply for asylum, as she crosses from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Often within minutes, border guards quickly arrive to escort migrants to detention centers and begin "credible fear" interviews. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman holding a baby peers through the U.S. border fence as she tries to reach a point where scores of migrants have been crossing in recent days, now blocked by private security, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Legal groups argue that federal law states that immigrants can apply for asylum no matter how they enter U.S. territory. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrant Leivi Ortega, 22, wearing a rosary, looks at her phone while she, her partner and their young daughter, wait in hopes of finding an opportunity to cross the U.S. border from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. In early December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the San Diego sector experienced a "slight uptick" in families entering the U.S. illegally with the goal of seeking asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, reaches back from the San Diego, California side of the U.S. border wall to get her baby's bottle, after crossing underneath from Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez is among a wave of Central Americans getting past the imposing barrier between Mexico and California and expediting their asylum claims by readily handing themselves over to U.S. agents. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A Honduran migrant helps a young girl cross to the American side of the border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. In November, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation suspending asylum rights for people who try to cross into the U.S. illegally from Mexico, although a divided U.S. appeals court has refused to immediately allow the Trump administration to enforce the ban. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Salvadoran migrant Cesar Jobet, right, and Daniel Jeremias Cruz hide from U.S. border agents after they dug a hole in the sand under the border wall and crossed over to the U.S. side, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. When the two youths were detected by agents they ran back to the Mexican side. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the U.S. border wall with plans to turn himself over to U.S. border patrol agents in order to apply for asylum, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. In twos or threes, or sometimes by the dozen, migrants arrive at the U.S. border wall and manage to cross over. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a guard on the U.S. side, at left, watches Honduran migrants jump the wall into the United States, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border, two immigrants on U.S. soil try to jump the second wall before border police arrived and arrested them, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a U.S. Border Patrol agent is seen as Honduran migrants who jumped the wall surrender on the U.S. side, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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“It’s strange they’re saying it’s not true,” said Taylor Levy, a lawyer for Annunciation House, an El Paso-based nonprofit that’s been providing shelter and other assistance to migrants for 40 years. [As of April 1, the Washington Post reported that federal immigration authorities had released 50,000 migrants to Annunciation House since October alone.]

While Levy said she has seen some people arrive at the shelters with U.S. prescriptions they got from a doctor while in Border Patrol custody, “it’s definitely more frequent that meds are taken away without giving them replacement prescriptions.”

“It’s just so commonplace that people arrive at the shelter saying, ‘I took X drug and it was taken away,” said Levy, noting that high blood pressure and diabetes are the most common conditions mentioned by adult migrants.

“I've heard countless people tell me their insulin was taken away,” said Levy. She said often migrants often say their medication was in their bag or backpack, which along with other personal property was confiscated when they were taken into custody.

Dr. Lisa Ayoub-Rodriguez, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group who helps coordinate doctors around El Paso to provide volunteer care to migrants through Annunciation House, said she’s heard similar stories from various doctors.

“Recently a lot of pregnant women have had their prenatal vitamins taken away,” she said.

Just last week, Ayoub-Rodriguez said an 11-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody with respiratory issues was brought to an El Paso hospital, where she received prescription medications along with a backpack and some coloring books that had been donated by members of the community. When she was returned to the Border Patrol processing center, however, the backpack had been confiscated and later that day the girl was readmitted to the hospital.

“The nurse who discharged her said her prescriptions were in the backpack, and then we were told the backpack was taken away,” said Ayoub-Rodriguez.

“To be fair, I haven't been in a CBP station and seen them take [medication] away,” said Dr. Bert Johansson, another El Paso-based pediatrician who provides volunteer medical care at shelters run by Annunciation House.“This is being reported to me by the migrants.”

Nonetheless, Johansson said he hears about it from both adults and children almost every time he visits one of the shelters.

”You have to realize, I’ll often see 30 to 60 people in a night,” he said. Of that, he estimates usually two or three report they had medication taken away for diabetes, asthma, seizures or other chronic illnesses. “I've also had some tell me that ‘I ran out and they wouldn't give me any more.’”

“Whether they were taken or they ran out and couldn't replace them, in either case, we sometimes see children who are in reasonable extremis and I need to take them to the emergency room or treat them right away,” Johansson said.

He recalled the case of a 15-year-old Guatemalan girl who arrived at one of the shelters in mild diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal. “If left on its own, it would have gotten worse,” he said.

The girl told Johansson that she’d been given medication for her diabetes in Guatemala but that when she was in custody in the U.S., that medicine was taken from her.

“I don’t know if it's really true or not, but there needs to be a mechanism where these medicines can still be supplied,” he said. “The bottom line is, these kids aren’t getting the meds they need.”

18 PHOTOS
A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
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A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a rest on the road, as she walks to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Adonai, as they make their way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File photo SEARCH "GLENDA ESCOBAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, plays with her son Adonai in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, sleeps in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph with her children Adonai and Denzel in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses with her son Denzel, 8, as they rest in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Denzel as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Denzel, 8, holds his brother Adonai, 5, near their mother Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, cries after talking on the phone, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road, on her way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a ride in a vintage car with her children Adonai and Denzel, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Adonai, 5, son of Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as he rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her children Adonai and Denzel, in Pijijiapan, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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For Johansson and the other physicians, the questions concerning access to medication for children with chronic conditions are part of a larger conversation about the type of care provided to children in CBP custody — which became the subject of heightened scrutiny amid a string of deaths among migrant children over the last six months, as well as recent reports revealing overcrowding and prolonged detention in temporary holding centers at the border.

In light of these deaths, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other child health and welfare experts, have offered a number of recommendations for how CBP can improve the care of migrant children in its custody, which include ensuring access to screenings and treatment by medical professionals who know how to recognize and respond to the subtle yet often rapidly worsening signs of illness in children.

“The AAP has been in discussions for months with [CBP] about increasing the number of pediatric-trained providers that are at these large processing centers,” said Griffin. However, information provided by CBP officials suggests the agency has yet to heed the AAP’s advice as it expands contracted medical services across the southwest border.

A Border Patrol official told Yahoo News that, as of May 30, over 200 medical professionals were contracted at Border Patrol facilities along the southwest border, including both support staff (EMT, registered nurses, and certified nursing assistants) as well as practitioners (nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians) who are “trained and experienced in family practice medicine to appropriately assess and care for the broad age range of children and adults in CBP custody.”

Asked whether the agency was seeking to hire additional contractors with specific pediatric training, the CBP official with current medical operations said, “Obviously pediatricians can only treat children, but we have pregnant women and adults in our custody.”

“We do consult with pediatricians … and if we identify requirements for more specific specialities, then we will pursue that,” he continued. “But as of right now, this is what we have.”

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