Kirstjen Nielsen blames family of seven-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody

"This family chose to cross illegally" and faced the consequences, DHS Secretary Nielsen tells "Fox & Friends"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 14, 2018 5:05PM (EST)

Kirstjen Nielsen; Immigrant children outside a former Job Corps site that now houses them. (AP/Susan Walsh/Wilfredo Lee)
Kirstjen Nielsen; Immigrant children outside a former Job Corps site that now houses them. (AP/Susan Walsh/Wilfredo Lee)

A seven-year-old Guatemalan girl died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week when her father illegally crossed the United States-Mexico border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said onThursday.

The girl and her father were detained on Dec. 6 at around 10 p.m. along with a group of 163 other people who surrendered to border agents, the Washington Post reported.

Less than nine hours later, the girl began to have seizures. Emergency responders were called and discovered her temperature had risen to 105.7 degrees. CBP said that the girl “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

The child was flown on a helicopter to Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she went into cardiac arrest. CBP said the child “was revived” but “did not recover and died at the hospital less than 24 hours after being transported.”

Her father is still being detained in El Paso.

“Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement to the Washington Post. “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.”

The ACLU blamed the “lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP” for the child’s death.

“The fact that it took a week for this to come to light shows the need for transparency for CBP. We call for a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths,” Cynthia Pompa, the advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, told The Post.

Democrats have demanded an investigation into the girl’s death. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., who is expected to chair the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, said she was “horrified, heartbroken, and infuriated” over the child’s death.

"This is yet another example of how the Trump Administration puts NO value on the lives and dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters. I am FIERCELY committed to fighting that cruelty with every power of my office and every breath in my body," said Roybal-Allard.

On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees CBP, placed the blame on the girl’s family in an interview with Fox News.

“This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally,” Nielsen said on “Fox & Friends.”

“What happened was they were about 90 miles away from where we could process them,” she said. “They came in such a large crowd that it took our Border Patrol folks a couple times to get them all. We gave immediate care. 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 unidentified girl is not the first child to die in government custody. Last month, Guatemalan mother Yazmin Juarez filed a $60 million wrongful death suit against the federal government after her 19-month-old daughter Mariee died after being held at an immigration facility.

Mariee died six weeks after she and her mother were released from an immigration facility in Dilley, Texas. Juarez’s attorney, R. Stanton Jones, said that the child developed a respiratory infection at the facility because it did not have proper conditions to house a toddler.

"The U.S. government had a duty to provide this little girl with safe, sanitary living conditions and proper medical care but they failed to do that resulting in tragic consequences," Jones said in a statement. "Mariee entered Dilley a healthy baby girl and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection. Mariee died just months before her second birthday because ICE and others charged with her medical care neglected to provide the most basic standard of care as her condition rapidly deteriorated and her mother Yazmin pleaded for help."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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