Dead Guatemalan girl becomes martyr in immigration battle
Democrats on Friday turned a 7-year-old illegal immigrant who died after a rough journey through Mexico into a martyr for their cause of blocking President Trump’s immigration policies, saying he and the Homeland Security Department are responsible for the girl’s death.
Some have accused Border Patrol agents of refusing the girl water while others have suggested she was maltreated though neither appears to be true, if the version of events Homeland Security officials have laid out is correct.
Officials said the girl was caught in a remote area hours from any services as part of a group of 163 illegal immigrants, versus just four Border Patrol agents. The girl’s father never alerted agents that there was any issue until nearly eight hours later, the government says.
Jakeline Amei Rosemery Caal Maquin died a day later after suffering a heart attack, liver failure and respiratory failure, in what appears to be a case of sepsis.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said some members it would head to the Border Patrol office in New Mexico where the girl was originally taken for processing to conduct a personal investigation on Tuesday.
“We must understand what led to this child’s death and how these stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge at our borders,” the caucus said in an announcement.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is slated to be on Capitol Hill next week for an oversight hearing and lawmakers vowed to make her explain what happened.
Some individual Democrats, though, have already reached conclusions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said her information was that the girl was denied water, contributing to the death.
“It’s heartbreaking and unacceptable that a 7-year-old girl died of dehydration and shock last week in Customs and Border Protection custody,” she said. “Reports indicate that she was not given water for the eight hours she was in custody before seizures started, even though she’d had nothing to drink for days.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren said the death raised questions about the holding facilities Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses to detain people before they are turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is responsible for longer-term holding, tracking and deportation of illegal immigrants.
She also bristled at Homeland Security officials’ stance that the child’s father, who brought her on the journey from Guatemala through Mexico, was to blame.
“This administration truly has no shame,” the congresswoman said.
Other high-profile Democrats such as Rep. Beto O’Rourke, whose stock has risen since he nearly defeated Sen. Ted Cruz in last month’s elections, piled on as well.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, bristled at their complaints, saying it made no sense to blame agents who, by early accounts, followed all procedures, instead of a father who put his daughter through a horrific journey.
“For them to vilify us instead of putting the blame where it belongs, which is on the parent, that’s unconscionable,” he told The Washington Times. “We’re now allowing the parents to get away with neglect, to get away with child endangerment.”
He said if this had been an American child whose parent had put them through the same conditions of no food and a rough journey, then authorities step in as the child died, prosecutors would charge the parent, not the government responders.
“When did we start blaming law enforcement for everything that’s wrong in this country?” he said. “I’m not trying to make light of this death because any death is tragic. But if somebody does in fact pass away, why isn’t the responsibility placed on the people who were responsible for the health which is the father?”
Homeland Security’s inspector general said it has opened a probe into the girl’s death, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s personnel office is also investigating to see if procedures were followed.
Mr. Judd said he’s confident the probes will show agents did everything they could given the circumstances.
According to a timeline provided by authorities, the group of 163 people were caught at 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry in remote New Mexico. The border crossing was closed for the night, but the Border Patrol maintains a forward operating base there and four agents spotted the migrants.
They screened the 163 people, including the 7-year-old girl and her father. Part of the screening is a list of about 20 questions asked of each migrant or, in the case of the family, the girl’s father.
“During the screening, the father denied that either he or his daughter were ill. This denial was recorded on Form I-779 signed by the father. At this time, they were offered water and food and had access to restrooms,” Homeland Security said in a lengthy statement detailing the incident.
That directly contradicts Ms. Feinstein’s assertion that water was withheld.
Once the migrants were screened, agents had to get them to the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, where they were to be booked and kept until ICE could pick them up. Lordsburg is about two hours away and the station had only one bus for the 163 migrants, which was dispatched at 10 p.m.
The first group to board was 50 unaccompanied alien children minors traveling without parents who under court orders are the Border Patrol’s highest priority for care, absent other circumstances. The bus trip can take hours along remote country roads.
During that time the father and the girl were at a sally port at the border crossing, where they continued to have access to water and bathrooms, the government says. The father did not raise any alarm about the girl during that time either.
The bus arrived back at the border for the second group at 4 a.m., and was about to depart again at 5 a.m. with the father and girl in that group, when the father first advised agents the girl was sick and vomiting.
“Out of an abundance of caution, agents immediately requested that an EMT meet the bus on arrival at the Lordsburg station,” Homeland Security says.
The bus got to the station just before 6:30 and “at that point the father notified agents that the child was not breathing.”
Border Patrol agents with EMT training revived the girl twice, officials said, and called local emergency services who were on the scene at 6:40. She was taken by air ambulance to an El Paso hospital where went into cardiac arrest, was revived, but had brain swelling and liver failure and ended up on a breathing machine. She died early Dec. 8.