Boy with a fractured skull faces deportation; family was detained after ICE check-in

The child's family say they told authorities about 5-year-old Mateo's condition and showed officials the child's medical report. ICE denied this in a statement.
Image: Migrant women and children walk at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, on Aug. 23, 2019.
Migrant women and children walk at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, on Aug. 23, 2019.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post / Getty Images file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Belisa Morillo, Francisco Cuevas and Damià Bonmatí

A 5-year-old Guatemalan boy with a fractured skull and his parents and younger brother are in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after a routine check-in.

Relatives accuse ICE of negligence, saying the child, Mateo — who was put on a plane to a Texas detention center with his mother and his younger brother, has frequent headaches and cries in pain.

The child's father was separated from his family and sent to a detention center in California, where the family has lived while it sought asylum; they say they were threatened in their country. All family members now have deportation orders.

ICE said in a statement that Milda Rodríguez, the boy's mother, did not warn authorities of her child's condition at the time of the arrest and medical examinations revealed no problems.

Mateo fell from a supermarket cart Dec. 22 while playing with his 1-year-old brother, the family said. Two days later, the family visited two medical centers in the Los Angeles area after the boy kept crying from pain.

Doctors there performed an MRI and detected blood in the brain (epidural hematoma) and a fracture in the skull, according to medical records obtained by Telemundo News.

The family said they were unable to take their child to see a neurologist or a neurosurgeon because ICE detained them during a routine check-in last month after they missed a hearing in the immigration court processing their asylum case back in November.

"His head hurts a lot"

The children and their mother were sent to an immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas. The father, José Pedroza, was sent to a detention center in Adelanto, California, that only houses adult inmates.

The children's aunt, Leidy Rodas, said the family told the government about Mateo's health condition and showed officials the child's medical report. ICE denied this in a statement.

"My sister calls me every day very stressed and worried about what is happening with Mateo," the aunt said in Spanish. “We are very concerned that they are not giving her the medical care she's requesting for the child. With any noise, he covers his ears with his hands and starts screaming because his head hurts a lot. ”

ICE told Telemundo News that health workers at the detention center visited the child Tuesday. The agency added that both on Jan. 23 and 27, routine examinations were performed on the child, which "revealed no apparent medical problems."

After the mother mentioned that her child was wetting his bed since the accident, ICE took Mateo to a hospital in San Antonio for further tests.

ICE said that an MRI done in the hospital found no signs of epidural hematoma, contradicting what the previous medical report showed.

Mateo was discharged from the hospital and returned to the family detention center in Texas on Wednesday.

Dr. Amy Cohen, who is working with the family, said that the child's treatment is “consistent with other observations of indifferent treatment” she has seen in ICE detention centers, as well as in Customs and Border Protection facilities.

"They are serious violations of human rights," Cohen, a member of Physicians for Human Rights, a group that investigates medical irregularities in detention centers, told Telemundo News.

A private company, CoreCivic, manages the Dilley family detention center where Mateo, his mother and his brother are being held. It is one of only two detention centers across the country that house families and is able to hold about 1,600 people, according to the latest ICE report published in November. At that time, more than 56 percent of the detainees were minors.

Mateo and his family have been in ICE custody for 17 days. The U.S. government is not allowed to hold detained families for more than 20 days.

Even though ICE said the detention of families should "generally be limited to 20 days," its own internal reports show that most families spend 35 days in the Dilley detention center. Others have been there for 91 days.

At least six children have died in immigration custody under the Trump administration. An 18-month-old girl died in 2018 after being detained with her mother at the Dilley detention center. The mother sued ICE for inadequate treatment after her child became ill while in detention, her lawyers said.

“My sister is very desperate and she's always crying,” Rodas said. "And the boy tells me on the phone: 'Nana, I already want to be with you, come for us.'"

Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.