Children Dying in Detention in US & Mexico

The deaths of children held in immigration detention were unnecessary and are unjustifiable

On May 17, 2019, IDC members and partners in Mexico gathered outside of the National Palace to demand that the Mexican government immediately end immigration detention of children. The demonstration was in response to the death of a 10-year-old girl from Guatemala who was held in immigration detention in Chihuahua and later transferred with her mother to another detention center in Mexico City.


While this is the first public death of a child in immigration detention in Mexico, in the United States, at least five children and youth have died in immigration detention in just six months: from December 2018 to the most recent death occurring on May 20, 2019.

There is no acceptable reason or justification for these deaths

For years, child development experts have confirmed time and again that detention is extremely harmful to children, regardless of the conditions or length of time of the detention. It is because of these long-term effects that regional and international standards clearly state that immigration detention constitutes a child rights violation and is never in the child’s best interest
Furthermore, both countries have regulations or legal decisions that limit use of immigration detention in the case of children, regardless of whether they are accompanied or traveling alone. In Mexico, immigration detention of children is completely prohibited, while in the United States, children must be released without delay, or detained only in exceptional cases, always in the least restrictive environment. Currently, governments in both countries are violating these national standards.


Hundreds of civil society organizations and human rights experts from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and other countries across the region are demanding an end to the harmful practice of immigration detention of children, highlighting that:

‘These are not isolated cases; rather they are ongoing occurrences that reflect patterns of human rights violations’

(Joint Statement)

Both in the United States and Mexico, governments are able to access alternatives to detention that allow children to be free and live with their families or in residential care, where they can receive appropriate support to ensure their physical and emotional wellbeing. These alternatives could be implemented immediately in order to avoid future tragedies.


IDC grieves over these recent events and reiterate our commitment to collaborate with government and civil society in order to develop alternatives to detention that are effective and humane.

It’s time to end immigration detention of children

Some of the children and youth who died after being detained by immigration authorities in the U.S. and Mexico are:*

  • Jackeline Caal, a 7-year-old girl from the Maya Q’eqchi’ community, originally from Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, died on December 8, 2018 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New Mexico
  • Felipe Gómez Alonzo, an 8-year-old boy from the Maya Chuj community, originally from Yalambojoch, Nentón, Huehuetenango, Guatemala died on December 25, 2018 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas
  • Juan de León Gutiérrez, a 16-year-old boy from the Maya Chorti community, originally from Chiquimula, Guatemala died on April, 30 2019 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Texas
  • A 2-and-a-half-year-old boy from the Maya Chortí community, originally from Chiquimula, Guatemala died on May 14, 2019 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Texas
  • A 10-year-old girl, originally from Guatemala, died on May 15, 2019 in the immigration detention center (or ‘immigration station’) in Iztapalapa, México.
  • Carlos Hernández, a 16-year-old boy, originally from Guatemala, died on May 20, 2019 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Texas


*Names and information primarily from the Mesa de Coordinación Transfronteriza Migraciones y Género México-Guatemala