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Afghan Evacuee Child With Terminal Illness Dies While in Federal U.S. Custody

Washington — A 6-year-old Afghan boy brought to the U.S. after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021 died last week while in federal government custody, marking the third such death this year, a U.S. official told CBS News Thursday.

The Afghan child had a terminal illness, according to the U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss the boy’s death, which has not been previously reported publicly. He died on June 13, the official said.

The boy was one of hundreds of Afghan children who arrived to the U.S. in 2021 without their parents after being evacuated from Afghanistan alongside tens of thousands of at-risk Afghan families and adults. In some cases, their parents had not managed to get on a U.S. evacuation flight. In other cases, their parents had been killed.

Because they arrived in the U.S. without parents or legal guardians, those children were placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which houses unaccompanied minors, including those processed along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

In a statement Thursday, HHS confirmed the child’s death, saying it stemmed from “severe encephalopathy,” a medical term for a brain disease or disorder.

The department said the boy was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center immediately after being relocated to the U.S. in August 2021. He was subsequently transferred to the HSC Pediatric Center in Washington, D.C., where he received 24/7 nursing care for those with a terminal illness.

On June 2, HHS said, the boy was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at the Children’s National Hospital due to an “acute medical complication.”

“Medical treatment was provided according to the parents’ wishes and aligned with the recommendations of the hospital’s health care provider team,” HHS added in its statement. “Our heart goes out to the family at this difficult time.”

The Afghan boy’s death marks the third death of an unaccompanied child in HHS custody this year.

In March, a 4-year-old girl from Honduras died after being hospitalized for cardiac arrest in Michigan. The unaccompanied girl had been in a medically fragile state for years, according to people familiar with the case and a notification to Congress obtained by CBS News.

In May, officials disclosed the death of a 17-year-old Honduran boy who was being housed in one of the HHS shelters for unaccompanied minors in Florida. Federal and local authorities have continued to investigate that death, which officials said likely stemmed from an epileptic seizure.

In addition to deaths in HHS custody, another migrant child, 8-year-old Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez, died in U.S. Border Patrol custody in May. Her death has triggered an ongoing and sweeping federal investigation that has already raised serious questions about the treatment the girl received in U.S. custody, and led to the removal of a top Customs and Border Protection official.

Preliminary government reports have found that medical contractors declined to take Reyes Alvarez to the hospital multiple times, despite repeated pleas from her desperate mother. The girl and her family were also held in Border Patrol custody for over a week, despite agency rules that instruct agents to release or transfer detainees within 72 hours.

HHS houses unaccompanied children who don’t have a legal immigration status in the U.S. As of Wednesday, the agency was housing 5,922 unaccompanied minors, most of whom tend to be Central American teenagers fleeing poverty and violence, government records show. 

The government houses these unaccompanied minors until they turn 18 or can be placed with a U.S.-based sponsor, who is typically a family member. However, many unaccompanied Afghan children have remained in shelters and foster homes for prolonged periods since their family members have been killed or are stuck in Afghanistan. The Biden administration said it has prioritized the resettlement of Afghan refugees with children in the U.S.  

Source : CBSNews