A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl reportedly died after 8 hours in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who was detained by Border Patrol agents after illegally crossing the southern border into the United States last week died after suffering from a high fever and seizures, according to federal immigration authorities, who said the father was ultimately at fault.
The girl was in U.S. custody for more than 11 hours after crossing into New Mexico with a group of 163 migrants, including her father. She began vomiting, was determined to have a 105.7-degree fever, and then transported by Air Ambulance to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The girl, identified as Jakelin Caal Maquin, went into cardiac arrest at Providence Children’s Hospital, but was revived before dying a short time later, according to DHS.
A Customs and Border Protection official said Friday that the girl was given a cursory, visual medical screening by agents when the group was initially detained. He said water and food were available throughout their stay, but could not confirm whether the girl had any. The official said the father signed a form indicating his daughter had no medical problems, and only alerted Border Patrol agents when she started suffering seizures while being transported on a bus from one Border Patrol station to another.
“There were agents on the bus. The father could have brought this issue to their attention sooner,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to fully explain the details of the girl’s death.
The DHS Inspector General has opened an investigation into the case to ensure that all proper steps were taken. But DHS officials made clear that such tragedies will happen when so many people make the long and dangerous trek to enter the U.S. illegally.
“It’s heart-wrenching. And my heart goes out to the family,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Friday on Fox & Friends. “This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally. We’ll continue to look into the situation, but again, I cannot stress enough how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally.”
Those answers didn’t sit well with a wide range of immigration and human rights groups who blasted the Trump administration over yet another tragedy along the southern border.
The Democratic National Committee released a statement decrying “an escalation in the cruel treatment of immigrants” that started with the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that led to thousands of separated families along the border this summer. The Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights said migrants, like those who were tear-gassed by CBP agents near Tijuana, are “seeking refuge in our country, not a coffin.”
And Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said he is not willing to accept CBP’s claims that they can’t properly care for the waves of asylum-seeking migrants reaching the U.S. in recent years because their facilities are not designed to accommodate minors and family units. The agency has received huge increases in its budget in recent years, but Jadwat said that money always goes to enforcement, not the protection of migrants in custody.
“I guess the question is, ‘What is their priority?'” Jadwat said. “The response to many, many reports and complaints and court cases over…border detention has not been to improve the situation, but instead to deny the problem.”
Take a walk through a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. There are tight quarters and long food lines, but some of the kids are still trying to make the best of it.
The father and daughter were first apprehended about 9 p.m. on Dec. 6 as part of a group of 163 migrants who tried to cross the border near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry in New Mexico.
The remote outpost does not facilities to house so many migrants, so Border Patrol agents kept the group in a sally port overnight. CBP said the migrants had access to water, food and restrooms, but could not confirm whether the girl received any.
The migrants were then transferred to the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station about 90 miles north. The girl and her father boarded their bus about 4:30 a.m. A short time later, CBP said the father alerted agents that her daughter was in distress. Agents radioed ahead to Lordsburg so official there could be ready, but CBP said there was nowhere else to go in that vast, desolate part of the New Mexico desert.
When the bus arrived at Lordsburg at about 6:30 a.m., the girl was no longer breathing. Officials called 911 and the Hidalgo County EMS arrived about 6:40 a.m. CBP said the girl was revived twice and officials decided to airlift her to the El Paso hospital.
The father was taken there separately in a government vehicle.
Tekandi Paniagua, general consul of Guatemala in Del Rio, said the father was distraught and pleading for one more chance to see his daughter.
“He told us he was seeking, in some way, to say goodbye to his daughter,” Paniagua said. “We immediately began making the necessary arrangements to meet the father’s wishes.”
Lawyers, immigration advocates and human rights groups have long decried the conditions in which migrants, especially children, are housed along the southern border.
In Tucson, an ongoing lawsuit claims holding cells are filthy, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities such as blankets. A judge overseeing that lawsuit has ordered the agency’s Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to provide blankets and mats to sleep on and to continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.
In July, a federal judge went a step further, ordering the Trump administration to transfer all undocumented immigrant minors out of the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, due to allegations of abuse, overmedication and the use of unapproved psychotropic drugs on the children.
Those troubles come as the number of minors crossing into the U.S has skyrocketed in recent years.
The overall level of illegal immigration remains at historic lows, with the overall number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. — about 10.7 million — falling to 12-year lows in 2016. But the nature of migration to the U.S. has changed dramatically, with more unaccompanied minors and family units crossing the border and requesting asylum.
Contributing: The El Paso Times, the Associated Press.
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