Texas officials are investigating the death of a Honduran man last month in an apparent suicide – after he was separated from his family following his arrest for crossing illegally into the United States.
Marco Antonio Munoz, 39, was apprehended in Texas by U.S. Border Patrol agents on May 11, and transferred to a Rio Grande Valley processing center.
While being processed “he became disruptive and combative so for his safety and the safety of others, he was transferred to Starr County, Texas jail,” said a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson.
He was brought to the jail on the night of May 12 and the next morning he was found unresponsive in a padded cell. The Starr County Sheriff incident report called his death a “suicide in custody.”
On the morning before he died, county jail staff said they made contact with Munoz “at least three times” and had observed him in the corner of the cell “praying mostly,” according to the report.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Munoz crossed the Rio Grande with his wife and 3-year-old son on May 12 near the town of Granjeno, Texas. A government official confirmed he was apprehended with his family.
A Border Patrol agent told The Washington Post that Munoz “lost it” when he was told that he would be separated from his family.
At the beginning of May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would prosecute every border crosser that entered the U.S. illegally – a shift from previous practice that allowed for discretion on prosecutions.
During the announcement, Sessions warned parents who attempt to bring children with them across the border.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” he said.
At least 700 families have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, the Trump administration has confirmed.
As of last week, just under 11,200 minors were in the care of the federal government with 600 open beds and 855 open reserve beds.
“For the past 12 to 18 months, we’re seeing something we have never seen before,” Ruben Garcia, who runs an immigration shelter El Paso, Texas, told ABC News. “As I like to say, it’s like enforcement on steroids with the things that are being done here on the border.”
Last week, Sessions defended the policy in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted.” Attorney General Sessions said. “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out. You’re not given immunity.”
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a project of the immigration group America’s Voice, said that in addition to the “reckless disregard for the devastating consequences of its policy to children and parents, the death of Mr. Munoz and the lack of disclosure shows a stunning disregard for transparency and accountability.”
Congress requires that CBP report the death of any individual in CBP custody within 24 hours, including relevant details regarding the circumstances of the fatality.
“Transparency is essential so that the public, Congress, and the federal government can make informed decisions on policy, especially those that strike at the family and result in loss of human life,” added Jaddou in a statement.
The Texas Rangers – state criminal investigators – are currently the lead investigative agency into Mr. Munoz’s death, which is still under investigation.
Treatment of those in the care of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is governed by the Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS), which was implemented by the agency in October 2015.
A spokesperson for CBP said that “takes every loss of life very seriously and has initiated an internal review to ensure these policies were followed.”
CBP declined to provide additional comment on the death or the lag in reporting to Congress – citing an ongoing investigation.
ABC News’ Luke Barr, Tom Llamas and Lauren Pearle contributed to this story.
Source: ABC News GENEVA SANDS
Photo Credit: Willey & Chamberlain
Photo Credit: Starr County Sheriff’s Office