Heinrich Leads Border State Senators On Legislation To Improve Health & Safety In Remote Areas Of Southern Border

In response to recent child migrant deaths, REMOTE Act would provide medical training and resources for CBP

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 7, 2019) – In response to recent child migrant deaths, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) led fellow border state Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in introducing the Remote, Emergency, Medical, Online Training, Telehealth, and EMT (REMOTE) Act to improve health and safety in all remote areas of the southern border. The legislation would provide additional medical training and resources to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The tragic deaths of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, who died in New Mexico after crossing remote areas of the southern border, raised serious concerns about the health and welfare of children in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody and the Trump administration’s policies and practices causing asylum seekers to attempt a dangerous journey of crossing between major ports of entry. These tragedies, and the circumstances that led to them, show the urgent need for DHS to adequately allocate medical resources in remote areas of the southern border and enhance the agency’s ability to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. 

In recent months, there has been an influx of children and families attempting to seek asylum at remote border crossings. The DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently published a report concluding that the practice of turning away asylum seekers at international bridges and “limiting the volume of asylum-seekers entering at ports of entry” may be causing the increase in unauthorized crossing attempts between ports of entry.

“The Trump administration’s cruel and reckless immigration policies are endangering the lives of asylum seekers and straining resources and capacity at remote CBP locations,” said Sen. Heinrich. “We must ensure DHS and agencies on the frontlines have the medical resources needed to prevent unnecessary tragedies. I’m proud to work with key stakeholders to find common ground on pragmatic, responsible solutions to address the needs along our southern border.”

“Immigrants seeking asylum are largely families with young children fleeing persecution and violence,” said Sen. Feinstein. “The Trump administration’s refusal to process families at ports of entry is driving them into the desert, where they face heightened health risks. CBP facilities in these remote desert areas are not equipped to care for families, particularly young children. The heartbreaking deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Alonzo Gomez made this clear. Our legislation is critical to preventing another tragic death of a child in federal custody.”

“The Trump administration’s failed and inhumane immigration policy has turned away countless asylum seekers at our southern border, leading to more and more families attempting a dangerous journey of crossing between ports of entry, and further straining resources and capacity at remote CBP locations,” said Sen. Udall. “New Mexico has been ground zero for the consequences of these cruel policies. The tragic deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez in December of last year demonstrate the urgent need for greater medical personnel, training, and resources for DHS along the border – we simply cannot wait for another tragedy to occur. I’m proud to support the REMOTE Act, which is a good first step to avoid tragedy for families arriving at our border, and support CBP officers with better medical training to respond in emergency situations.”

“We must take action in response to the tragic deaths of two young children in CBP custody last year. This bill would equip Border Patrol agents with training and resources to better screen and provide emergency medical response to those they encounter coming across the border. This is smart and it will save lives,” said Sen. Harris.

The legislation has broad support from groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fe (CAFe), and the Physicians for Human Rights.

“Children are not just little adults; they can appear to be quite healthy when in fact their little systems are shutting down. That is why it’s so important that children in CBP custody have appropriate access to timely care. The REMOTE Act is an important first step toward that goal and we commend Senators Heinrich, Feinstein, Udall and Harris for their leadership to protect children in immigration custody,” said Kyle Yasuda, MD, FAAP, President, American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We commend Senator Heinrich for introducing smart legislation that reflects the realities we face working in distant and often isolated areas of the border,” said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd President.“The REMOTE Act will ensure our border agents are equipped with the training and resources needed to keep agents, migrant families and communities in remote border areas safe.”

“This administration's hostility towards immigrants and immigration is deadly, as we saw with the tragic deaths of Jakelin and Felipe, young children aged 7 and 8, in Border Patrol custody last December. We support the REMOTE Act's requirements to improve Border Patrol medical training and translation capacity--two essential steps in making DHS address migrants' humanitarian needs. Congress must also act to end DHS's deeply misguided and inhumane deterrence policy that detains families and children in unconscionable conditions,” said Chris Rickerd, ACLU Senior Policy Counsel.

“The REMOTE Act is an important first step to increase the ability of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to provide potentially life-saving medical assistance to people in distress at the U.S. border, especially for children like Jakelin Maquin and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez who died in CBP custody late last year. Ensuring that more CBP agents have appropriate medical training and providing access to physicians and interpretation services is the very least we can do to ensure the health and safety of the children in their custody,” said Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights.

"NM CAFe faith leaders support Senator Heinrich's efforts to provide smart solutions for border communities through the REMOTE Act. This bill is aligned with our values of welcoming the stranger by ensuring that asylum seekers are met by Border Patrol agents who are equipped with the necessary resources to prevent further tragedies. This legislation also opens up the door for dialogue, allowing that policies directly impacting our immigrant communities, can be fully transparent. Furthermore, reassuring that mechanisms for oversight--will be done so with the spirit that many of our immigrant families deserve,” said Johana Bencomo, NM CAFe Director of Organizing.

The REMOTE Act would:

  • Increase the number of EMT certifications among Border Patrol agents and offer a 5 percent pay differential for those who receive national certification.
  • Authorize EMT Paramedic training for select agents and offer a 10 percent pay differential.
  • Ensure CBP provides agents with EMT and paramedic certification adequate medical supplies, including supplies designed for children younger than 18 years of age.
  • Require preference be given to agents assigned to remote stations and forward operating bases where there is little health care infrastructure.
  • Require Online Training to ensure all Border Patrol agents and CBP officers complete an online training program that meets nationally recognized standards for the medical care of children that will enable agents and officers to identify common signs of medical distress in children;
  • Provide Voice Access to Physicians or Health Care Providers for all remote Border Patrol stations, forward operating bases, and remote ports of entry along the southern border to ensure 24-hour voice access to a physician or health care provider with pediatric training; and
  • Enhance Language Interpretation Services to provide interpretation services through electronic technology at all remote stations, forward operating bases, and ports of entry along the southern border.

A copy of the bill is available here.