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 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, identified by the Guatemalan foreign ministry as Jackeline Caal, with food or water during the hours she was in their custody. But instead of addressing that concern, DHS, which oversees CBP, initially released a statement about Caal’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 Caal and her father were detained, they 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.
Later Friday, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley said the administration isn’t to blame for Caal’s death.
“Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No,” Gidley said, according to the Washington Post.
Gidley added that Caal’s death was a “100 percent preventable” situation and called for Congress to “pass some common-sense laws to disincentivize people from coming up from the border and encourage them to do it the right way, the legal way, then those types of deaths, those types of assaults, those types of rapes, the child smuggling, the human trafficking, that would all come to an end. And we hope Democrats join the president.”
On Saturday, a representative of the Guatemalan government told CNN that Caal’s father has “no complaints about how Border Patrol agents treated him and his daughter,” adding that the girl didn’t show any signs of distress until they were on a bus being transported to a border patrol station.
2/ The consul says the father told him that agents did everything they possibly could to help the girl on the bus.— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 15, 2018
While the White House and DHS urge 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 Caal and her father to take matters into their own hands.
During an interview on Friday’s edition of Fox & Friends, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also avoided addressing concerns about how CBP treated the girl, 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 Caal 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
Caal’s death comes months after a toddler died from an illness she developed at an Immigration and Border Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas.