AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A 3-year-old child riding one of Texas’ migrant buses died while on the way to Chicago, officials said Friday, the first time the state has announced a death since it began shuttling thousands of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border last year.
Texas authorities confirmed a child’s death in a statement Friday but did not say where the child was from or why they became ill. The Illinois Department of Public Health said the child was 3 years old and died Thursday in Marion County, in the southern part of that state.
“Every loss of life is a tragedy,” the Texas Division of Emergency Management said in a statement. “Once the child presented with health concerns, the bus pulled over and security personnel on board called 9-1-1 for emergency attention.”
Texas has bused more than 30,000 migrants to Democratic-controlled cities across the U.S. since last year as part of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s sprawling mission on the border, called Operation Lone Star. The operation has come under a burst of new scrutiny in recent months over additional hard-line measures the governor has authorized in the name of deterring migrants from crossing from Mexico.
The Biden administration is suing Texas over wrecking ball-sized buoys placed on the Rio Grande this summer, saying the water barrier poses environmental and humanitarian concerns. Texas has also begun separating some migrant families on the border in what marks a shift by state police, who have previously said that families should stay together.
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze referred questions Friday night about the child’s death to the state’s emergency management agency, which has operated the bus program since it launched in 2022.
The child received treatment from paramedics and later died at a hospital, according to the agency. The bus departed from the Texas border city of Brownsville. All passengers had their temperature taken and were asked if they had any medical conditions, according to Texas’ emergency management agency, which did not immediately respond to requests for more details Friday night.
Illinois officials said in a statement they were working with health officials, state police and federal authorities “to the fullest extent possible to get answers in this tragic situation.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes the Texas border, said Friday night that he had not been briefed on details of the child’s death. Still, he criticized Abbott, saying the governor should be working more with the federal government on border security.
“You can’t use the migrants as political pawns. You still got to be accountable to taking care of them, especially if you’re transporting kids,” Cullear said.
Besides Chicago, Texas has also sent buses to Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles. On Thursday, Abbott freshly touted the bus program on Twitter, posting, “We will continue busing migrants to sanctuary cities until Biden does his job & secures the border.”
Under Texas’ bus program, the state says migrants sign consent waivers and agree on the destinations where they’re headed. Texas officials say the buses are stocked with food and water and that migrants are allowed to get off early at stops before the destination city.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass called the buses a “despicable stunt” by Abbott after 42 people, including some children, were dropped off in the city in June.
At least four migrant children have died this year in federal custody. That includes an 8-year-old girl from Panama who died in May and had arrived with a heart condition and sickle cell anemia. Last month, an independent report found that Border Patrol does not have protocols for assessing medical needs of children with preexisting conditions.
Associated Press writer Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas, contributed to this report.