A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala has died while in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol officials, after being detained last week close to the U.S.-Mexico border. The young girl, who reportedly had not had anything to drink or eat for days before being in CBP custody, died of septic shock, fever, and dehydration.
The young girl, who was identified as Jackeline Caal by an official with the Guatemalan foreign ministry, was traveling with her father as part of a large group of more than 100 people seeking to come to the United States. On the evening of December 6, the group approached Border Patrol agents near Lordsburg, New Mexico and was subsequently detained.
This is what happened after Caal was in CPB custody, according to the Washington Post:
More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”
After a helicopter flight to Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, the child went into cardiac arrest and “was revived,” according to the agency. “However, the child did not recover and died at the hospital less than 24 hours after being transported,” CBP said.
What happened during the eight hours while Caal was held by CBP and before she began having seizures remains unknown.
“Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances,” said CBP spokesperson Andrew Meehan in a statement to the Post. “As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”
In an interview on Friday morning, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen took a familiar line from this administration and blamed the girl’s family for her death. While saying her “heart goes out to the family,” Nielsen stressed that “this family chose to cross illegally.” She added: “We cannot stress how dangerous the journey is when migrants come illegally.”
What Nielsen chose to not acknowledge, of course, is how Border Patrol policy has dramatically increased the dangers for people traveling to the U.S. A 2017 ProPublica report noted that “efforts by the Border Patrol to push migrants away from easy-to-cross, hard-to-police urban corridors and into barren, isolated terrain”—a Clinton-era policy known as prevention through deterrence—has led to more dangerous journeys for migrants. As one writer wrote in the Guardian earlier in 2018, “Border Patrol policy has turned the desert into a weapon.”
And, as Reveal reporter Aura Bogado noted, the conditions at CBP holding facilities—commonly called “hieleras,” or iceboxes, due to their cold temperatures—are generally so poor that children and adults are often sick. “I’ve looked at I don’t know how many medical records of children who’ve been in hieleras. Everyone single one has at least a cough,” Bogado wrote in a series of tweets. Migrants who have been detained in CBP facilities have described them as “overcrowded, unhygienic, and prone to outbreaks of vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory infections and other communicable diseases.”
“This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions,” Cynthia Pompa, ACLU Border Rights Center advocacy manager, told the Associated Press. “Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths.”
Update (3:16 p.m.): DHS’s Office of Inspector General announced that it will be investigating the circumstances of Caal’s death.