Signs sit arranged on the ground during the “Free The People Immigration March” in Los Angeles, California. (Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg)

U.S. Investigating Death of 7-Year-Old Migrant Girl in Custody

(Bloomberg) -- A seven-year-old migrant who died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week didn’t receive medical care for more than an hour and a half after her father reported that she was sick, a CBP official said.

The account of the girl’s illness and care after she was apprehended Dec. 6 crossing the U.S. border in New Mexico conflicts with that of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who said on Fox News earlier Friday that the young migrant received “immediate care” from authorities.

Nielsen called the death of the unidentified girl “a very sad example of the dangers of this journey” as she defended her department’s response to the incident. “It’s heart-wrenching, is what it is.”

The DHS Office of Inspector General announced later Friday it had opened an investigation into the girl’s death and would release a final report publicly. The office also said it would continue an “ongoing program of unannounced inspections” of CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and report those results publicly as well.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the girl, from Guatemala, died of dehydration and shock after entering the U.S. illegally with her father in a remote area of the New Mexico desert. CBP said the girl was in the agency’s custody for eight hours, and that the girl’s father didn’t report that she was sick after they were apprehended with a large group of migrants who presented themselves to Border Patrol to claim asylum.

The CBP official said that the girl and her father were apprehended at about 9:15 p.m. in New Mexico on Dec. 6. They were held at a local port of entry, where they had access to food, water and restrooms, until about 4:30 a.m. the next morning, when they were loaded onto a bus to be transported about 95 miles to a different facility in Lordsberg, New Mexico.

By the time they arrived, the girl’s father said she had stopped breathing. She was revived twice upon arrival, and then paramedics began providing her care. She was then transported to a children’s hospital in El Paso, where she died early the next morning.

Nielsen said the girl and her family chose to cross the U.S. border illegally about 90 miles away from where agents could process them.

“They came in such a large crowd that it took our border patrol folks a couple of times to get them all,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen in the interview reiterated calls for additional funding for a border wall, which the Trump administration has said would deter undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the southern border with Mexico. President Donald Trump has threatened a partial government shutdown ahead of a December 21 deadline if Congress doesn’t approve $5 billion for the wall. Democrats have refused to provide more than $1.3 billion for border security.

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