Seven-year-old Jackeline Caal died in the custody of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last week, the agency admitted Thursday. The child's death was a direct consequence of the savage repression of immigrants by the Trump administration, which has intensified to the point where such deaths cannot be considered accidents. They are the inevitable and deliberate result of policies chosen to maximize the suffering and privation for refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
Caal and her father were part of a group of more than 160 Guatemalan immigrants who crossed the US-Mexico border on the night of December 6, seeking sanctuary from rampant violence and oppression in their home country. They turned themselves in to immigration officials at the port-of-entry in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
Caal's father Nery told the CBP that she was ill and vomiting, but there were no medical personnel at the location. The detained immigrants were packed into two buses and taken on a 90-minute drive north, ending at a CBP facility in Lordsburg, New Mexico.
Once in Lordsburg, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), agents separated Caal from her father on the pretext that he did not have documents proving they were related. This is part of the deliberately cruel regime maintained along the border, aimed at intimidating refugees with the threat that their children will be taken away from them and never returned.
After the separation, Caal began having seizures. Local emergency media personnel were called and had to revive the child twice when she stopped breathing. They found she had a fever of 105.7 degrees. They had her airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, about 160 miles away. There she was treated for severe dehydration and lack of food, but died in the intensive care unit less than 24 hours later. Her father Nery had been driven to the hospital and was there when she died.
The chain of circumstances here is damning. The refugees were compelled to make the dangerous trek through the Sonora desert because the US government refuses to allow them to apply for asylum at well-traveled border crossings, deliberately stalling their processing for weeks, even months.
The CBP facility at Antelope Wells had no medical personnel and was completely unsuited for receiving refugees in family groups. At a congressional hearing Tuesday, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan testified that the stations were built many years ago to handle border crossers who were unaccompanied men of working age, usually in good physical condition.
In November, however, 25,000 immigrants crossed the US-Mexico border as family groups, he said, including 5,200 children without a guardian. "Our infrastructure is incompatible with this reality," McAleenan admitted. "Our border patrol stations and ports of entry were built to mostly handle male single adults in custody. Not families or children."
Once the CBP took the Guatemalan group into custody, they first ignored the father's concern for his young daughter, then deliberately separated him from her, claiming he lacked proof of parenthood. It was only when the girl stopped breathing that emergency services were called. But it proved to be too late. It is not clear whether the CBP provided either water or food to the refugees after they turned themselves in.
When the news of this horrific death was first reported Thursday night, the Trump administration immediately went into damage control, blaming the family of the child. Appearing on Trump's favorite program, "Fox & Friends," on Friday morning, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared, "This family chose to cross illegally."
She continued, "What happened here was they were about 90 miles away from where we could process them. They were in such a large crowd that it took our Border Patrol folks a couple of times to get them all." The DHS secretary concluded by making use of the tragedy to deter future border crossings. "I cannot stress," she said, "how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally."
The White House took the same tack, even more crudely. "Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No," Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said Friday morning, also on Fox News.
Neither the DHS secretary nor the White House addressed the undisputed fact that Jackeline Caal died, not in the desert, but in the custody of the DHS.
The CBP and DHS initially refused to release the name of the young victim, describing her only as a "juvenile detainee" in the statement announcing her death. It was only the foreign ministry of Guatemala that supplied the name of the girl and her 29-year-old father, adding that they were from Raxruha, in the Alta Verapaz department of northern Guatemala.
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