Federal immigration authorities confirmed on Thursday, that a 7-year-old girl who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with her father last week died after being taken into the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.
The Washington Post announced that the girl died of dehydration and shock over eight hours after she was detained by agents near Lordsburg, New Mexico. The girl was from Guatemala and was journeying with a group of 163 people who approached agents to turn themselves in on Dec. 6.
It’s unclear what happened to the girl during the eight hours before she began having seizures and was flown to an El Paso hospital.
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement, that the girl had not eaten or taken water in many days. The agency did not give The Associated Press with the statement it gave to the Post, even with repeated requests.
The Department of Homeland Security, in a Thursday night statement, showed its “sincerest condolences” to the family of the child and said Border Patrol agents “took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances.”
The statement reads “As we have always said, traveling north illegally is extremely dangerous. Drug cartels, human smugglers and the elements pose deadly risks to anyone who comes across the border illegally, “Border Patrol always takes care of individuals in their custody and does everything in their power to keep them safe. Every year the Border Patrol saves hundreds of people who are overcome by the elements between our ports of entry.
“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,” the statement went on “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.
The girl’s death poses questions about whether border agents knew she was ill and if she was fed anything or given anything to drink during the eight-plus hours she was in custody.
Immigrants, attorneys and activists have long raised concerns with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, the current lawsuit claims holding cells are dirty, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities such as blankets. A judge in charge of that lawsuit has ordered the agency’s Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to give blankets and mats to sleep on and to continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.
The Border Patrol has seen a growing trend of large groups of immigrants, many with young children, going up to agents and turning themselves in. Most are Central American and say they are escaping violence. They surrender in instead of trying to circumvent authorities, many with plans to apply for asylum.
Agents in Arizona see groups of over 100 people on a regular basis, sometimes along with infants and toddlers.
Arresting such groups poses logistical issues for agents who have to wait on transport vans that are equipped with baby seats to take them to processing facilities, some which are at least half hour north of the border.
The death of the 7-year-old comes after a toddler died in May immediately being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas, and as the administration of Donald Trump tries to ban people from seeking asylum if they crossed the border unlawfully. A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked that ban, but the administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate it Tuesday.
Advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, Cynthia Pompa, said migrant deaths grew last year even as the number of border crossing dropped.
Pompa said “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,”.