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Kevin McAleenan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief, says migrant child deaths ‘devastating’

December 30, 2018

The chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Sunday the death of two migrant children in their custody was “devastating” but that agents did everything they could to save them once they showed signs of illness.

“Just absolutely devastating for us on every level. It’s been over a decade since we’ve had a child die anywhere in our processes,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told ABC’s This Week.

He said 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Maquin, who died this month in Border Patrol custody after trekking through the desert, was 94 miles from the nearest border station and they got her there as quickly as they could when she began vomiting on a bus.

Upon arrival, they tried to revive her and fly her to a hospital in El Paso, he said.

He said it was a Border Patrol agent who noticed the symptoms of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old who died on Christmas Eve after six days in agency custody.

Mr. McAleenan said his agency is working with Immigration Customs and Enforcement to deal with the “humanitarian crisis” of tens of thousands of migrants coming across the border each month. He said the tide of young children is especially daunting.

“We’ve checked everyone we currently have in custody. We’re working with ICE to make sure we can transfer them to a better situation for families and children as quickly as possible,” he said.

He said a “sober-minded, nonpartisan look” at immigration laws is needed to confront the fact that children and families are leveraging the U.S.’s legal framework to enter together in hopes of being released.

He said Congress should invest in President Trump’s push for physical barriers on the border, while investing in Central America a comment that appeared at odds with Mr. Trump’s recent Twitter threat to cut off aid if they don’t do more to stem illegal immigration.

Mr. McAleenan said the point is that Central American nations need to be an accountable partner in the effort, particularly as Mexico takes an interest in helping out.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to make a difference,” he said.

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