A White House spokesman on Friday called the death of a 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody a “tragic situation” but said the Trump administration is not to blame and called on Congress to “disincentivize” migrants from making long treks to the southern U.S. border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that the girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.
Asked by a reporter if the administration is “taking any responsibility for the girl’s death,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.”
According to CBP records, the girl and her father were detained about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.
More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures, CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees. According to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”
She died less than 24 hours after being transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso.
On Friday, the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that it performed an autopsy on 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin. The office said it cannot release any information until an autopsy report is complete, a process that could take six to eight weeks.
“It’s a horrific, tragic situation,” Gidley said. “Obviously, our hearts go out to the family and to anyone who’s suffered any type of danger and peril that they see so often when they make that trek up from the southern border.”
Gidley said the death was “100 percent preventable” and called for congressional action.
“If we could just come together and pass some common-sense laws to disincentivize people from coming up from the border and encourage them to do it the right way, the legal way, then those types of deaths, those types of assaults, those types of rapes, the child smuggling, the human trafficking, that would all come to an end. And we hope Democrats join the president.”
In a statement Thursday, the ACLU called for a “rigorous investigation” into the girl’s death, blaming it on a “lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP.”
Robert Moore in El Paso contributed to this report.