2nd child dead in US custody mourned in Guatemala village

2nd child dead in US custody mourned in Guatemala village
Catarina Alonzo Perez, mother of the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody, stands in her kitchen in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Felipe was healthy when they left, according to the family. The last time he spoke with his mother was a day before they were taken into detention by border agents. Felipe told his mother that he was fine. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

YALAMBOJOCH, Guatemala (AP) — White flowers and flickering candles sat atop a low table inside the simple wooden home in remote, rural Guatemala. Nearby was a small pair of rubber boots, sized to fit an 8-year-old.

Taped to the wall were three photos, alternately smiling and serious, bearing a simple epitaph for the boy whose memory the makeshift altar honored: "Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Died Dec. 24 2018 in New Mexico, United States."

On Christmas Eve, Felipe became the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border. The deaths prompted widespread criticism of President Donald Trump, who has sought to deflect responsibility toward Democrats even as his Homeland Security secretary vowed additional health screenings for detained migrant children.

In the boy's village of Yalambojoch, in western Guatemala, the political fallout in the United States seemed a world away and there was only deep sadness over his death. Relatives said they had no idea that such a tragedy could occur. Nor had they heard about U.S. policies that led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents earlier this year.

"We don't have a television. We don't have a radio," Catarina Gomez, Felipe's sister, said Saturday. "We didn't know what had happened before."

Catarina Alonzo Perez, the mother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border, pauses during an interview in her home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Felipe was chosen to make the journey north with his father because he was the oldest son. It didn’t occur to anyone that the road could be dangerous. “I didn’t think of that, because several families had already left and they made it,” Alonzo said. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Catarina Alonzo Perez, the mother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border, pauses during an interview in her home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Felipe was chosen to make the journey north with his father because he was the oldest son. It didn’t occur to anyone that the road could be dangerous. “I didn’t think of that, because several families had already left and they made it,” Alonzo said. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

The hamlet, set on a plain and surrounded by spectacular, pine-covered mountains, is a place of crushing poverty and lack of opportunity, home to a single small school, dirt roads that become impassible during the rainy season and rudimentary homes without insulation, proper flooring, water or electricity.

The community is populated by families who fled to Mexico during the bloodiest years of Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war but returned after the signing of peace accords. There are no jobs, and people live off meager subsistence farming and local commerce. Residents say the Guatemalan government has turned a blind eye to their plight, a complaint that can be heard in other impoverished villages in the country.

FILE - This Dec, 12, 2018, photo provided by Catarina Gomez on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018, shows her stepbrother Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, near her home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala. The 8-year-old boy died in U.S. custody at a New Mexico hospital on Christmas Eve after suffering a cough, vomiting and fever, authorities said. The cause is under investigation. (Catarina Gomez via AP, File)
FILE - This Dec, 12, 2018, photo provided by Catarina Gomez on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018, shows her stepbrother Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, near her home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala. The 8-year-old boy died in U.S. custody at a New Mexico hospital on Christmas Eve after suffering a cough, vomiting and fever, authorities said. The cause is under investigation. (Catarina Gomez via AP, File) (Source: Catarina Gomez)

Felipe's sister, Catarina, said that in recent years "everyone started heading for the United States," so much so that a local project to boost education financed with Swedish help was abandoned because there were practically no more young people to take the classes.

It was extreme poverty and lack of opportunity that drove Felipe's father, Agustin Gomez, to decide that he and the boy would set off for the United States. Others from the community had been able to cross the U.S. border with children, and he figured they would have the same luck. Felipe was chosen because he was the oldest son. It didn't occur to anyone that the journey could be dangerous.

Catarina Alonzo Perez, mother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, and her sister-in-law Maria, step outside their home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. The hamlet is set on a plain and surrounded by spectacular, pine-covered mountains. It's also a place of crushing poverty and lack of opportunity. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Catarina Alonzo Perez, mother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, and her sister-in-law Maria, step outside their home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. The hamlet is set on a plain and surrounded by spectacular, pine-covered mountains. It's also a place of crushing poverty and lack of opportunity. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

"I didn't think of that, because several families had already left and they made it," the boy's mother, Catarina Alonzo said, speaking in the indigenous Chuj language as her stepdaughter translated into Spanish.

Felipe was healthy when they left, according to the family. The last time he spoke with his mother was a day before they were taken into detention by border agents. Felipe told her he was well, that he had eaten chicken, that the next time they talked would be by phone from the United States.

Six-year-old Mateo, the brother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, rests his head on his mother's lap in their home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. It was extreme poverty and lack of opportunity that drove Felipe’s father, Agustin Gomez, and mother Catarina Alonzo to decide that he and the boy would set off for the United States. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Six-year-old Mateo, the brother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, rests his head on his mother's lap in their home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. It was extreme poverty and lack of opportunity that drove Felipe’s father, Agustin Gomez, and mother Catarina Alonzo to decide that he and the boy would set off for the United States. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

Instead, the call that came Christmas Day was from her husband, who said Felipe had died the day before.

The two had been apprehended a week earlier, on Dec. 18, near the Paso del Norte bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, to Juarez, Mexico, according to border officials. Father and son were held at the bridge's processing center and then the Border Patrol station in El Paso before being transferred on Dec. 23 to a facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) away.

Yalambojoch is seen from the Franja Transversal del Norte highway, in the western department of Huehuetenango not far from the Guatemala-Mexico border, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Yalambojoch is the hometown of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Yalambojoch is seen from the Franja Transversal del Norte highway, in the western department of Huehuetenango not far from the Guatemala-Mexico border, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Yalambojoch is the hometown of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

After an agent noticed Felipe coughing, father and son were taken to an Alamogordo hospital, where Felipe was found to have a 103-degree fever (39.4 degrees Celsius), officials have said.

Felipe was held for observation for 90 minutes, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, before being released with prescriptions for amoxicillin and ibuprofen.

A poster with photo copies that show Felipe Gomez Alonzo is taped to a wall as part of a makeshift altar honoring the 8-year-old, inside his mother's home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. On Christmas Eve, Felipe became the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A poster with photo copies that show Felipe Gomez Alonzo is taped to a wall as part of a makeshift altar honoring the 8-year-old, inside his mother's home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. On Christmas Eve, Felipe became the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

But the boy fell sick hours later and was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve. He died just before midnight.

New Mexico authorities said late Thursday that an autopsy showed Felipe had the flu, but more tests need to be done before a cause of death can be determined.

Magdalena Gomez Lucas, center, a sister of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, holds her stepbrother Oliver as her aunt Maria adjusts her shawl, at their home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Magdalena Gomez Lucas, center, a sister of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, holds her stepbrother Oliver as her aunt Maria adjusts her shawl, at their home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

The other Guatemalan child, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, died Dec. 8 in El Paso. She showed signs of sepsis, a potentially fatal condition brought on by infection, according to officials.

On Saturday, Trump claimed that Felipe and Jakelin were "very sick" before they reached the border, though both young migrants passed initial health screenings by Border Patrol.

Calla lilies and candles adorn a makeshift altar honoring 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, in his mother's home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Relatives of Felipe, who on Christmas Eve became the second Guatemalan child to die in U.S. border custody, are remembering the boy in his home village with flowers, candles and photographs. Felipe’s body is expected to be sent back to Guatemala around mid-month. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Calla lilies and candles adorn a makeshift altar honoring 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, in his mother's home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Relatives of Felipe, who on Christmas Eve became the second Guatemalan child to die in U.S. border custody, are remembering the boy in his home village with flowers, candles and photographs. Felipe’s body is expected to be sent back to Guatemala around mid-month. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said last week that prior to this month, no child had died in the agency's custody in more than a decade.

On Sunday he called for a "multifaceted solution" on immigration, including not only better border security and new immigration laws but more aid to the Central American countries the migrants are fleeing from.

Artwork by Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, is taped to a door of the Gomez home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. New Mexico authorities said late Thursday that an autopsy showed Felipe had the flu, but more tests need to be done before a cause of death can be determined. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Artwork by Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, is taped to a door of the Gomez home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. New Mexico authorities said late Thursday that an autopsy showed Felipe had the flu, but more tests need to be done before a cause of death can be determined. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

Referring to the U.S. pledge earlier this month of $5.8 billion in development aid for Central America, McAleenan called it "a tremendous step forward."

"There are green shoots of progress both on security and the economic front in Central America. We need to foster that and help improve the opportunities to stay at home," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Neighbors of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo snack on chayote while standing in their yard in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. The community is populated by families who fled to Mexico during the bloodiest years of this country's 1960-1996 civil war but returned after the signing of peace accords. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Neighbors of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo snack on chayote while standing in their yard in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. The community is populated by families who fled to Mexico during the bloodiest years of this country's 1960-1996 civil war but returned after the signing of peace accords. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

Outside the Gomez family home in Yalambojoch, women gathered wearing lavender skirts in the intricate patterns typical of indigenous garb in Guatemala. Colorful tapestries hung on a clothesline above the muddy yard.

Taped to the door were a pair of Felipe's artworks. One was a rendering of a blue balloon with a green string; in the other, a white horse jumped over a fence against a yellow sun and tangerine sky.

Passengers wait for their belongings to be taken off a bus at the entrance of Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Yalambojoch is an impoverished hamlet where in recent years practically "everyone" is said to have begun to emigrate. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Passengers wait for their belongings to be taken off a bus at the entrance of Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Yalambojoch is an impoverished hamlet where in recent years practically "everyone" is said to have begun to emigrate. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

Among the villagers grieving Felipe's death was his 7-year-old best friend, Kevin. Two days before Felipe and his dad left, the two boys quarreled.

"They were crying because they had fought," said Felipe's sister, Catarina.

Maria Gomez, aunt of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, works in her kitchen in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Felipe came from a rural community with extreme poverty. He was taken to the border by his father and detained by the U.S. Border Patrol before he fell ill. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Maria Gomez, aunt of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, works in her kitchen in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Felipe came from a rural community with extreme poverty. He was taken to the border by his father and detained by the U.S. Border Patrol before he fell ill. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

By the time Kevin came back to look for his friend, he had left for the United States. Kevin now knows that Felipe has died, the family said.

Trying to fight back tears, Catarina Alonzo said her son promised before leaving that when he was grown, he would work to send money home. Felipe also wanted to buy her a cellphone so she could see pictures of him from afar.

Maria Gomez, aunt of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, cries as she retells memories of him in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. In the village the political hue and cry in the United States seems a world away. There's only deep sadness over the death of Felipe. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Maria Gomez, aunt of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody, cries as she retells memories of him in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. In the village the political hue and cry in the United States seems a world away. There's only deep sadness over the death of Felipe. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

Now she hopes for only two things: That Felipe's body is returned as soon as possible for burial, and that her husband can remain in the United States to work off debt and support their other kids.

The Guatemalan Consulate in Phoenix has said that Agustin Gomez was released on a humanitarian license allowing him to remain in the United States for now. Felipe's body is expected to be sent back to Guatemala around mid-January.

A truck drives past on a dirt road in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. There are no jobs in Yalambojoch, and people live off local commerce and meager subsistence farming. Locals say the Guatemalan government has turned a blind eye to their plight, a complaint that can be heard in similarly impoverished villages elsewhere in the country. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A truck drives past on a dirt road in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. There are no jobs in Yalambojoch, and people live off local commerce and meager subsistence farming. Locals say the Guatemalan government has turned a blind eye to their plight, a complaint that can be heard in similarly impoverished villages elsewhere in the country. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Source: Moises Castillo)

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Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Zeke Miller and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.