Another child dies: Kirstjen Nielsen blames the family, "open borders"

Trump's DHS secretary says "those who seek open borders" and irresponsible parents have led to recent tragedies

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 27, 2018 3:45PM (EST)

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.  (AP/Susan Walsh)
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and another DHS official tried to deflect blame after a second migrant child died in Border Patrol custody this month.

An eight-year-old from Guatemala, identified in news stories as Félix Alonzo-Gómez or Félix Gómez Alonzo, became the second child to die in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody. The boy was detained with his father after crossed the border near El Paso, CNN reported.

The boy fell ill on Dec. 24 after he was transferred to several different facilities. Officials transported him and his father to a hospital in New Mexico where the boy was diagnosed with a cold. Félix was released with a prescription for antibiotics and ibuprofen despite having a 103°F fever. He was rushed back to the hospital several hours later where doctors soon pronounced him dead.

The boy’s death came just two weeks after seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who had also traveled from Guatemala, died of severe dehydration while in CBP custody.

Following Maquin’s death, Nielsen appeared to blame the child’s parents.

“This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally,” Nielsen told Fox News. “What happened was they were about 90 miles away from where we could process them. 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.”

After Gómez Alonzo’s death over the Christmas holiday, Nielsen once again cast blame on the family, as well as supporters of what the Trump administration calls “open borders” policies.

“Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders,” Nielsen said in a statement Wednesday. “Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north.”

A DHS official who declined to be named also blamed Congress for the death while insisting the administration is doing its best.

“We have called repeatedly, incessantly and often for Congress and the courts to take action — we are doing all that we can to handle this flood as humanely as possible,” the official said, according to The Daily Beast.

Nielsen went on to say in her statement that the agency has seen “an uptick in sick children crossing our borders” and requested medical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense.

She said that all children in CBP custody will now receive “a more thorough hands-on assessment at the earliest possible time post-apprehension ― whether or not the accompanying adult has asked for one.”

“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” she added.

Maquin and Gómez Alonzo were not the first children to die after being held in government facilities. Last month, Guatemalan mother Yazmin Juárez filed a $60 million wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government after her 19-month-old daughter Mariee died after being released from an immigration facility with a respiratory infection.

Democrats have vowed to hold hearings on the children’s deaths when the new Congress convenes in January.

“After the new Democratic majority begins, the House will hold hearings on this young boy’s death and the death of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal earlier this month — as well as the conditions under which thousands of children are being held,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who will be House majority leader in the next Congress.

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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