Last night, the Washington Post reported that a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died last week of exhaustion, dehydration, and a fever brought on by septic shock while in Border Patrol custody. So this morning, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went on Fox & Friends to blame the girl’s family for her death.
“This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally,” she told the Fox News crew.
She continued: “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.”
Migrating to the U.S. border—leaving your home and walking thousands of miles on foot—is horrifically dangerous, which speaks volumes about how desperate these migrants are to escape. Their journey is made significantly more dangerous by Nielsen’s agency making it as difficult as possible to find safe harbor.
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Border Patrol agents routinely destroy water and supplies left by humanitarian groups in the desert. They shoot tear gas and pepper spray at children and asylum-seekers. They militarize legal points of entry—even physically blocking them with armed officers—to discourage entry, all after signing off on zero tolerance policies that tear apart families.
In the case Nielsen was asked about, there is no excuse. Per the Post, the girl was in CBP custody for over eight hours before she began having seizures at 6:25 a.m. and was rushed to a hospital. Nielsen says the child received “immediate care.” Immediate care... when? When she and her father turned themselves in to border agents? (They weren’t apprehended, for the record: The Post reported they were part of a 163-person group that turned themselves in to agents after crossing.) Or did the child receive that “immediate care” eight hours later, when she started having seizures?
In the face of all that, Nielsen chooses to blame the girl’s family. A parent doesn’t expose their child to the danger of a border crossing unless they know that child will certainly face more danger back home. There’s simply no excuse for a child dying in an immigration jail. Thousands of people fleeing violence in their home countries live and die at the whims of CBP. The least Nielsen could do is admit when it’s the latter.