EL PASO, Texas (CN) – The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it will investigate the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in federal custody last week after crossing the U.S. border into New Mexico.
The Washington Post first reported that the girl started having seizures eight hours after she was taken into custody with her father by three Border Patrol agents south of Lordsburg, New Mexico, on the evening of Dec. 6. They were part of a group of 163 people who surrendered to Border Patrol agents after illegally crossing the border.
Emergency responders found the girl had a body temperature of 105.7 degrees and “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days,” according to the Post. She was airlifted to an El Paso hospital where she died less than 24 hours later.
Officials have identified her as Jackeline Caal Maquin.
DHS said in a statement that Border Patrol agents had performed an initial health screening on the girl and her father following their apprehension and “found no evidence of health issues.”
The agency said her father also denied she was ill and that the girl and her father were offered food and water and access to a bathroom at that time.
DHS called Maquin’s death “incredibly tragic,” but said the situation is “not unique.”
“Each year, the Border Patrol identifies hundreds of people who either die attempting to illegally enter the United States, are injured in the attempt, or have to be rescued by Border Patrol. This past year alone Border Patrol rescued 4,311 people in distress,” the agency said.
According to DHS, the hospital has indicated the girl’s initial cause of death is septic shock, and an autopsy will be performed.
In early November, the Trump administration announced that migrants who cross between ports of entry could be barred from seeking asylum and face criminal prosecution.
But in recent weeks, asylum seekers at ports of entry in several cities along the southern border have faced long waits for their applications to be processed and have reported being turned away and asked to return later by border agents, according to the Post.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told the newspaper on Friday that the girl’s death is a “tragic situation,” but said the Trump administration was not to blame.
“Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No,” Gidley said.
But the girl’s death has prompted outcry against the Trump administration from activists and a Democratic lawmaker.
Joaquin Castro, a congressman from San Antonio and the chairman-elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told NPR that he blames the girl’s death on the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“By limiting the ability of folks to present themselves to the port of entry, the Trump administration is basically making it more dangerous for these folks,” Castro said.
Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called on the government to “institute reforms that prevent this kind of senseless tragedy from ever happening again.”
“When you turn away people who are legally seeking asylum at official ports of entry, they attempt to make contact with U.S. officials in remote and dangerous areas, and people die,” Simonson said. “When you militarize the border, including constructing border walls, desperate migrants will attempt to cross in the harshest desert regions, and people die.”
More than 400 migrants died along the U.S.-Mexico border last year, according to the ACLU.
The Office of the Inspector General for DHS said it will release its final report on the girl’s death to Congress and the public.