In a tragic incident, a seven-year-old Gautemala died hours after being taken into US Border Patrol custody, as confirmed by federal investigation authorities on Thursday. The deceased had crossed the US-Mexico border with her father and 163 other immigrants last week.
The suspected cause of death of the girl was dehydration and shock. The child passed out and later died, more than 8 hours after she was arrested by agents near Lordsburg, New Mexico, the Washington Post reported. The group she was travelling with, approached agents at the US-Mexico border to turn themselves in on December 6. It is still unclear what happened to her during the 8 hours before she started having seizures and was flown to a hospital in El Paso, New Mexico.
In a statement issued by the Customs and Border Protection, it is suggested that the girl had not eaten in several days.
The head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, will appear in front of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee next week. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the panel, wrote on Twitter: “We will be demanding immediate answers to this tragedy.”
Logistical issues associated with processing 163 immigrants in one night could have posed significant challenges for US Border Patrol, whose detention facilities are equipped to accommodate many people.
When a Border Patrol agent arrests an individual, he/she gets processed at a detention facility but usually spends no more than 72 hours in custody before they are either transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, deported home if they are Mexicans.
The girl’s death raises several questions about whether border agents were aware of the fact that she was ill and whether she had anything to drink during the 8-hour ordeal, she experienced in custody.
Lawyers and activists have long raised objections about detention conditions of US Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, an ongoing lawsuit claims that holding cells are usually filthy, extremely cold and lack basic necessities such as blankets and mats.
The Border Patrol has seen a spike in the absolute numbers of immigrants, including children, and turning themselves in to US Border Patrol agents. An overwhelming majority of these are Central American and claim that they are fleeing violence. They turn themselves in instead of appeasing the authorities, with plans to apply for asylum. Infants and toddlers also arrive with their guardians in significant numbers.
The death of the seven-year-old follows the demise of a toddler in May just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas. The administration of Donald Trump seeks to ban people from applying for asylum if they cross the border illegally. A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked that ban, but the administration has asked the US Supreme Court to reinstate it on Tuesday.
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