WASHINGTON - A Mexican man who fell from the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico died on Sunday, the latest in a string of fatalities in custody and another life claimed on what can be a treacherous route through remote wilderness for people seeking to enter the United States without authorization.
The 47-year-old suffered head and arm injuries after falling near Nogales, Arizona, on June 18. Despite surgery to drain fluid from his brain, he died June 30, according to a statement released Tuesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The same day, a Honduran man in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, Yimi Alexis Balderramos-Torres, 30, was found unresponsive in his dormitory at a Houston detention center. Medical personnel could not revive him.
ICE is waiting for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
His is the sixth death in ICE custody this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2018. The agency registers an average of 10-12 deaths of people in its care annually.
His is also one of the first deaths following the implementation of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. Under MPP, people who cross into the U.S. without authorization and are seeking asylum are sent back to Mexico to wait for their immigration proceedings.
The U.S. has returned more than 15,000 people to Mexico since January, according to Mexico’s immigration agency.
ICE said border agents first detained Balderramos-Torres on May 17, 2019, and under the MPP, he was supposed to wait in Mexico.
But on May 27, he crossed back into the U.S. without authorization and was caught by local police during a traffic stop. ICE took custody of him on June 6, and he remained in their facility until his death.
Crossing the Mexico-U.S. border can be deadly, and hundreds of bodies are found every year. Some areas are desert, with no facilities or access to water. Hours and days of trekking through remote terrain can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions. And, if caught and detained by the U.S. Border Patrol, detention facilities can be breeding grounds for communicable illness, as evidenced by the temporary closure of one location earlier this year after a flu outbreak and the death of a teen boy.
In some cases in U.S. custody, the cause is not immediately known. The CBP said over the weekend that a 43-year-old Salvadoran man in agency custody was “rushed to the hospital after falling into medical distress” and later died.
CBP did not give the name of either man who died in its custody in recent days. Emailed questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of the man who fell from the border fence were not answered by CBP.
The treatment and health of people detained by CBP — which handles detentions on the border — and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which deals with detentions in the interior — is under increased scrutiny, following the deaths of several children and adults in custody. More recently, the publication of an Associated Press report on hygiene and living conditions at CBP centers holding children raised additional alarms about standards of care.
The investigation prompted U.S. officials to move hundreds of children to new facilities last week.