A seven-year-old girl has died after crossing the Mexico-US border illegally with her father. The Guatemalan family were taken into custody after they approached Border Patrol agents in a remote area of the New Mexico desert last Thursday.
She began to have seizures just a few hours later and was was airlifted to the Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, Texas. First responders measured her body temperature at 105.7ºF and she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days”.
It is protocol that food and water are provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, but whether or not the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures is still unclear.
The girl went into cardiac arrest and was revived by medics, but she died just 24 hours later. The hospital initially listed the cause of death as septic shock, fever and dehydration, according to the Customs Border Patrol (CBP).
The CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility has launched an investigation to "ensure all appropriate policies were followed". Due to patient confidentiality, the name of the child has not been released. An autopsy is to be performed, but the results could take several weeks to surface.
The Department of Homeland Security released a statement giving its “sincerest condolences” to the family.
“Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child's life under the most trying of circumstances. As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”
She reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days
The American Civil Liberties Union blamed “Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP” for the girl’s death. The non-profit organisation said that “the fact that it took a week for this to come to light shows the need for transparency for CBP. We call for a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths.”
Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro said that Americans can “do better as a nation”.
“This is a humanitarian crisis and we have a moral obligation to ensure these vulnerable families can safely seek asylum, which is legal under immigration and international law at our borders,” he said.
Border Patrol detention centres have faced scrutiny as they are increasingly overwhelmed by large numbers of families seeking asylum from Central America. There are roughly 13,000 migrant children being held in detention centres across the United States. In May 2017, they numbered just 2,400.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that the agency’s cells are “incompatible” with the number of migrants requesting asylum. On Tuesday, during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said “our Border Patrol stations were built decades ago to handle mostly male single adults in custody, not families and children”.
The girl’s death comes four months after reports that a toddler died six weeks after leaving an ICE detention centre. The 18-month-old, also from Guatemala, developed an infection and respiratory symptoms, then died of viral pneumonitis. The toddler and her mother were detained after crossing into the US via the Rio Grande.
The family has now filed a $60m wrongful-death lawsuit against Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Yazmin Juarez fled with her daughter to escape an abusive situation at their Guatemalan home.