On December 6, a group of 163 people were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the New Mexico desert after they crossed the border and approached agents seeking asylum.
Among them was a seven-year-old girl. Just over eight hours after she was detained, the girl began having seizures, the Washington Post reports. With a temperature of 105.7 degrees, she was airlifted to an El Paso hospital, where she went into cardiac arrest and eventually died.
According to CBP, the girl appeared to have gone without food and water for several days. What’s unclear is what was done to change that after she was taken into custody. The Post reports that “food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody,” but “it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures.”
In a statement, CBP offered its “sincerest condolences” and said U.S. agents did all they could to help her:
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances,” Meehan said. “As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”
The tragic death has drawn swift condemnation from Democratic officials. New York Representative Jerrold Nadler tweeted that he will be “demanding immediate answers to this tragedy” from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Representative Beto O’Rourke, who represents El Paso, joined California Senator Kamala Harris in calling for a “complete investigation” into the girl’s death. It appears CBP will oblige. The agency told the Post that it’s “investigating the incident to ensure appropriate policies were followed.”
But even if policies were followed, there are other issues that may have contributed to this tragedy. RAICES, a Texas non-profit serving immigrants, blamed the “clogged immigration system” for asylum seekers crossing through a dangerous desert rather than a port of entry. “We need a total revamp of how we intake asylum-seekers. We can’t let more kids die in the desert,” the group said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the ACLU Border Rights Center blamed the girl’s death on “inhumane conditions,” a “lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty,” which have “exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths.”