Washington D.C., USA: An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death of a 7-year-old migrant girl who began suffering seizures in immigration custody along the U.S.-Mexico border and spiked a high fever, officials said.
The girl was found Dec. 6 near Lordsburg, New Mexico, by U.S. Border Patrol agents. She was in custody for about eight hours before she began having seizures, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials said. Emergency medical technicians discovered the girl’s fever was 105.7 degrees Fahrenheit (40.9 degrees Celsius), and she was airlifted to an El Paso, Texas, hospital, where she later died.
The girl appeared to be dehydrated and suffering from shock and apparently had not had anything to eat or drink in days, officials said. The results of the autopsy could take weeks, they said.
The Washington Post first reported the girl’s story late Thursday. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Friday the girl had been travelling with her father, correcting an earlier statement that said she was unaccompanied. The Post reported Thursday she had been travelling with her father, citing the same federal agency.
The Guatemalan girl’s death comes as increasing numbers of children and families are making the dangerous trek north from Central America and as immigration officials are being increasingly criticized for their treatment of migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. A review of what happened in the girl’s case will take place, federal officials said.
“On behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” said a statement from Homeland Security, the parent department of the Border Patrol. “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.”
The girl’s death raises questions about whether border agents knew she was ill and whether she was fed anything or given anything to drink during her time in custody. Immigration officials said hundreds of people who have been overcome by the harsh desert and sweltering conditions are saved by Border Patrol every year.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the story “shocks the conscience” and said he will be “demanding answers.”
“This senseless tragic death shocks the conscience. Immediate investigation must shine a spotlight on people & practices responsible,” Blumenthal said on Twitter Friday.
“Why did the Commissioner of Customs & Border Protection keep this little girl’s death secret until after he testified before me & Senate Judiciary Committee this week? I will be demanding answers,” Blumenthal continued.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, also called for an investigation, and said Congress should cut off funds to agencies where children die in custody.
Nielsen “has this on her hands,” Jayapal said on Twitter, adding that if “‘border security’ means detaining 7 year old children and letting them die in OUR custody, SHAME ON US. No more money without accountability.”
The DHS secretary told Fox News on Friday that the migrant girl’s death is “a very sad example of the dangers of this journey,” and stressed that the girl’s family “chose to cross illegally.”
In a statement on Friday, the agency offered condolences to girl’s family, but echoed Nielsen’s remarks about the hazards of crossing the border.
“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,” a spokesperson said.