Update: 7-year-old migrant girl held at US border dies in custody
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection recounted what happened to a Guatemalan girl before she died in their custody.
Chief Aaron Hull with the Border Patrol El Paso sector briefed media Friday on how the 7-year-old migrant's death happened.
She, her father and dozens of other migrants along a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border were taken into immigration custody late Dec. 6.
The girl was traveling with a group of 163 people who approached four agents at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry to turn themselves in, Hull said.
Hull said an agent interviewed and observed the migrants while they were detained.
Hull said there was no indication of health problems with the people in the group. He added that the girl's father claimed she was in good health.
Around 10 p.m., a bus arrived to take the migrants in groups about 110 miles north to the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station, said Hull.
The girl rode on the bus with her father in the second group around 4:30 a.m. the next day. Before the bus left, the girl's dad told authorities that his daughter had vomited on the bus. Officials drove to Lordsburg with the sick girl and arrived just before 6 a.m. Hull stated when they got there, she was not breathing, but authorities were able to revive her.
By 7:45 a.m. the girl was airlifted to Providence Children's Hospital in El Paso, Texas; Hull added that her father was taken to the hospital by a vehicle.
When the girl was at the hospital that morning, she suffered cardiac arrest but was revived, said Hull. He said results from a CT scan showed she had brain swelling.
The young girl was on a breathing machine and was diagnosed with liver failure. She was declared dead on Dec. 8. It's unclear what happened to her father.
Hull said the Guatemalan Consulate was notified about the child's death.
The results of the autopsy could take weeks, officials said.
The Guatemalan girl's death comes as increasing numbers of children and families are making the dangerous trek north from Central America and as immigration officials are being increasingly criticized for their treatment of migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Hull said more groups of substantial size, consisting of 100 to 300 migrants, are making there way.
"On behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child," said a statement from Homeland Security, the parent department of the Border Patrol. "Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child's life under the most trying of circumstances. As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child."
An official with Guatemala's foreign ministry identified the girl as Jackeline Caal and her father as 29-year-old Nery Caal.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News that the girl's death was heart-wrenching and a sad example of the dangers of crossing the border. She said the girl's group was 90 miles (145 kilometers) from where it could be processed and a few trips were needed to get such a large group over to processing.
"This family chose to cross illegally," Nielsen said. "We'll continue to look into the situation, but, again, I cannot stress enough how dangerous this journey (is) when migrants choose to come here illegally."
The group of migrants had access to restrooms, food and water while in custody at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Immigrants, attorneys and activists have long raised issues with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, Arizona, an ongoing lawsuit claims holding cells are filthy, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities, such as blankets. A judge overseeing that lawsuit has ordered the agency's Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to provide blankets and mats to sleep on and to continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.
Agents in Arizona see groups of more than 100 people, sometimes including infants and toddlers, on a regular basis.
Arresting such groups poses logistical problems for agents, who have to wait on transport vans that are equipped with baby seats to take the migrants to processing facilities, some which are at least a half-hour north of the border.
The death of the 7-year-old comes after a toddler died in May just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas and as President Donald Trump's administration attempts to ban people from asking for asylum if they crossed the border illegally. A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked that ban, but on Tuesday, the administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate it.