A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died last week while in Border Patrol’s (CBP) custody. But a statement the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) released Thursday night about her death raises more questions than it provides answers.
The Washington Post reported that CBP told them the girl “died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.”
According to CBP, the girl was traveling with a group of 163 migrants and was in CBP custody for more than eight hours before she started having seizures. She was transported to a hospital in El Paso, where she died. CBP says she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”
The timeline raises questions about whether CBP provided the girl with food or water during the hours she was in their custody. But instead of addressing that concern, DHS, which oversees CBP, released a statement about the girl’s death that appears to try to shift blame onto her and her father for making the trek to the US in the first place.
Here’s the whole statement:
“As we have always aid, traveling north illegally is extremely dangerous. Drug cartels, human smugglers and the elements pose deadly risks to anyone who comes across the border illegally. Border Patrol always takes care of individuals in their custody and does everything in their power to keep them safe. Every year the Border Patrol saves hundreds of people who are overcome by the elements between our ports of entry. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the medical team treating the child, we were unable to stop this tragedy from occurring. Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally. Please present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely.”
Shortly after this story was published, DHS sent a statement to Vox saying that after they were detained, the girl and her father were taken to a facility “where water was available.”
Here’s that statement in its entirety.
At 9PM on December 6, 2018, Border Patrol apprehended a group of 163 aliens. Upon apprehension a medical screening was conducted of the aliens where the father denied any illness for either himself or his minor child. In keeping with standard Border Patrol protocol, the father and child were at a station where water was available.
Due to the size and makeup of the group, two transports were needed to move the aliens to the nearest Border Patrol station which is 90 miles away from the point of apprehension. The father and minor boarded the second transport at approximately 4:30AM. Once on the bus, the father told Border Patrol that the minor was sick with a fever and vomiting. Border Patrol takes immediate action and radios for an EMT to meet them upon arrival at the Lordsburg Station. The bus arrives at the Lordsburg Border Patrol station shortly before 6:30AM. Once the father and child arrive at the station the father advises that the child is not breathing. Border Patrol immediately called 911 while administering medical care. Hidalgo County EMS arrives on scene within minutes and they were able to revive her twice. She was transported for air ambulance to the hospital. During this time, the father was transported to the hospital by Border Patrol which was four hours away by car.
While DHS urges asylum seekers to present themselves at ports of entry, Vox’s Dara Lind recently detailed how the Trump administration has made them wait for lengthy, indeterminate periods of time in Mexico before considering their claims. That practice creates an incentive for people like the Guatemalan girl and her father to take matters into their own hands.
During an interview on Friday’s edition of Fox & Friends, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also avoided addressing concerns about how the girl was treated by CBP, but instead characterized her death as “just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey.”
FOX & FRIENDS: What do you know about the 7-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody?@SecNielsen: “This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally… I cannot stress [enough] how dangerous this journey is.” pic.twitter.com/bjFMdFlW3E
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 14, 2018
But the girl didn’t die on the journey to America. She died after making the journey, while in Border Patrol’s custody.
Aura Bogado, an immigration reporter with Reveal, detailed conditions in hieleras — the facilities CBO uses to detain border-crossers.
Here’s a cropped @jbmoorephoto from a hielera. This is the water people are forced to drink. It’s grey and it’s disgusting. It routinely makes people sick. There isn’t even a place to dry your hands after you wash them. Everything is full of fecal matter. pic.twitter.com/VrdqjiBO1P
— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) December 14, 2018
The Guatemalan girl’s death comes months after a toddler passed away from an illness she developed at an Immigrations and Border Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas.
In a statement provided to CNN, Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said the death of the Guatemalan girl “represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions.”
“Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths. In 2017, migrant deaths increased even as the number of border crossings dramatically decreased,” Pompa added.
It’s perhaps one of many things House Democrats will be investigating when they take control of the chamber in January.