Two young children have died in recent weeks while in the care of Customs and Border Patrol, yet Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who doesn’t seem to know how her agency actually operates, continues to pin the blame for these deaths on the parents and family members who come to the U.S. seeking asylum.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Nielsen wrote that “smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north,” and that we have a “system that prevents parents who bring their children on a dangerous and illegal journey from facing consequences for their actions.” After the death of seven-year-old Jaakelin Caal, Nielsen also stressed that “this family chose to cross illegally.”
Aside from neglecting to mention that people continue to have the legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. (despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to gut long-standing asylum policy), Nielsen unsurprisingly does not acknowledge how the Border Patrol—in particular through a Clinton-era policy called “prevention through deterrence”—has created the dangerous conditions that she highlighted.
As Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler, the media coordinator for the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths told Jezebel recently, our border policy is “functioning exactly as intended”—to push people seeking to enter the U.S. into increasingly harsh and isolated desert regions.
“Blaming the parents is a really common tactic,” Orlovsky-Schnitzler said. “But we’re not presenting alternatives. We’re not saying we’re going to send aid down to your place of origin, we’re not sending attorneys to [the] border to make sure we can process asylum claims.”
In response to the deaths of Caal and eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, CBP announced it will now conduct “secondary medical checks” on children in the agency’s custody. Nielsen plans on traveling to Border Patrol stations located near the U.S.-Mexico border this week.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are demanding hearings and drafting legislation that would set minimum standards for the health care that people receive while in the custody of CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.