Thursday 20 June 2019

Girl (7) dies of dehydration in custody of US Border Patrol

Migrant child from Guatemala was with group of 163 people who turned themselves in to agents

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, walk close to the border wall as they attempt to cross from Mexico to the U.S, in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Reuters
Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, walk close to the border wall as they attempt to cross from Mexico to the U.S, in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Reuters

Jonathan Gray

A seven-year-old girl who crossed the US-Mexico border with her father last week died hours after being taken into the custody of the US Border Patrol, federal immigration authorities confirmed.

The girl died of dehydration and shock more than eight hours after she was arrested by agents near Lordsburg, New Mexico, the 'Washington Post' reported.

The girl was from Guatemala and was travelling with a group of 163 people who approached agents to turn themselves in on December 6.

It's unknown what happened to the girl during the eight hours before she started having seizures and was flown to an El Paso hospital.

Desperate: Migrants attempt to cross from Mexico to the US, in Tijuana, Mexico, yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Desperate: Migrants attempt to cross from Mexico to the US, in Tijuana, Mexico, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said the girl had not eaten or consumed water in several days.

The head of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection, will appear in front of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee next week, Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the panel, said on Twitter.

Processing 163 immigrants in one night could have posed challenges for the agency, whose detention facilities are meant to be temporary and don't usually fit that many people. When a Border Patrol agent arrests someone, that person gets processed at a facility but usually spends no more than 72 hours in custody before they are either transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, if they're Mexican, quickly deported home.

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 the eight-plus hours she was in custody.

Immigrants, lawyers and activists have long raised issues with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, an ongoing lawsuit claims holding cells are filthy, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities such as blankets. A judge overseeing that lawsuit has ordered the agency's Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to provide blankets and mats to sleep on and to continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.

The Border Patrol has seen an increasing trend of large groups of immigrants, many with young children, walking up to agents and turning themselves in. Most are Central American and say they are fleeing violence. Agents in Arizona see groups of over 100 people on a regular basis, sometimes including infants.

Arresting such groups poses logistical problems for agents who have to wait on transport vans that are equipped with baby seats to take them to processing facilities. The death of the seven-year-old comes after a toddler died in May just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas, and as the administration of Donald Trump attempts to ban people from asking for asylum if they crossed the border illegally.

Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Centre, said migrant deaths increased last year even as the number of border crossing dropped.

"This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths," Ms Pompa said.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News