A 3-year-old child riding one of Texas’ migrant buses has died while on the way to Chicago, officials have said, the first time the state has announced a death since it began shuttling thousands of refugees and migrants from the US-Mexico border last year.
Texas authorities confirmed a child’s death in a statement on Friday but did not say where the child was from or why they became ill. CBS News reported that she was a girl from Venezuela.“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.”
The child received treatment from paramedics and later died at a hospital, according to the agency. All passengers had their temperature taken and were asked if they had any medical conditions.
The bus departed from the Texas border city of Brownsville and was headed to Chicago. It was part of a controversial migrant busing program sponsored by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, which transfers migrants and refugees from Texas to Democratic-run cities in other states.
Texas has bused more than 30,000 refugees to Democratic-controlled cities across the US since last year as part of 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 hardline measures such as floating barriers authorised by the governor in the name of deterring asylum seekers from crossing from Mexico.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said the child died on Thursday in Marion County, in the southern part of that state.
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”.
While the cause of the death is not known, much of the southern United States has witnessed one of the worst heatwaves on record set in across this summer.US Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes the Texas border, said he had not been briefed on details of the child’s death. Still, he criticised 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.
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze referred questions on 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.
On Thursday, Abbott freshly touted the bus program on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, posting: “We will continue busing migrants to sanctuary cities until Biden does his job and secures the border.”
Under Texas’s bus program, the state says refugees and 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 travellers are allowed to get off early at stops before the destination city.