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Outrage Continues Over Deaths of Migrant Children at the Border

January 2, 2019

By Marielena Castellanos

Manuel Ocaño | La Prensa San Diego

A number of leaders are speaking up after two children from Guatemala died while in federal custody.

Seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosemery Caal Maquin died from septic shock and dehydration, two days after surrendering to Border Patrol agents with her father near Lordsburg, New Mexico. She began experiencing seizures. A helicopter took Jakelin to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, but she did not survive. She had been traveling with her father and other migrants.

Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo was arrested along with his father in El Paso, Texas about three weeks ago when Border Patrol agents noticed he was showing signs he was sick. He died on Christmas Eve at a hospital in New Mexico. The Associated Press reports an autopsy shows Felipe had the flu, but more tests need to be done to determine the cause of death.

Enrique Morones, the founder and director of Border Angels, the San Diego based organization which advocates for the rights of migrants, issued a statement about the deaths of the children, “More blood on Trumps hand’s. First he dehumanizes, then he takes children from parents, then he puts children in cages, then he tear gasses them, now he kills them. A society is judged on how we treat our children. No mas muertes, no more hate, no more trump.”

A number of civil and human rights groups are also calling on Congress to hold oversight hearings to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Jakelin.

“What happened to that little girl is heartbreaking and infuriating. It was also sadly inevitable under an administration that not only pursues cruelty for cruelty’s sake in its immigration policies, but refuses to treat communities of color with a modicum of respect, dignity or humanity. We demand an in-depth investigation of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and call on Congress to stop this human rights crisis now,” said UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía.

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. said, “This tragedy lays bare the monstrous policies being pursued in the name of the American people. Instead of working with Congress to devise an effective immigration system that respects human rights, the administration has unilaterally chosen a cruel and unsustainable detention policy, a course it justifies by stoking fears and resentments, and by ignoring our nation’s long history of welcoming immigrants, who are drawn here by our commitment to each person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Earlier this month, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro from Texas, also the newly elected chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led a congressional delegation to the Lordsburg Border Patrol station to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Jakelin.

“There were other disturbing facts like the fact that during the 94 mile bus ride, where she started to present serious symptoms of medical and bodily failure, there was nobody on board that could offer any kind of medical help to her. And no medically trained personnel. It’s systemic failures like that, that we’ve had a chance to uncover today, and also will have an opportunity to recommend policy changes to correct those,” Castro said.

Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer is also calling for the Department of Homeland Security and its leader, secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to be held accountable.

Incoming speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is also demanding an investigation.

Last week, in an interview on ABC’s morning political affairs show “This Week,” President Trump’s Border Patrol Chief Kevin McAleenan said immigration enforcement agents “did everything they could” to prevent the tragedies.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner McAleenan also said he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have directed border officials to perform medical checks on children ages 17 and under, as well as children already in government custody.

McAleenan also said “a multi-faceted solution,” was needed including investing in the countries where migrants are coming from.

“We also need to invest in Central America,” McAleenan said. “The State Department’s announcement of an unprecedented increase in aid, I think is a tremendous step forward. There are green shoots of progress, both on security and the economic front in Central America, we need to foster that and help improve the opportunities to stay at home.”

McAleenan’s comments are in contradiction to comments made by President Trump just days before McAleenan’s interview.

Trump said he would cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where poverty, violence and crime have motivated thousands of people to flee and seek asylum in the United States.

President Donald Trump also said both Jakelin and Felipe were “very sick” before they reached the border, even though both children passed initial health screenings by Border Patrol, according to the Associated Press.

Trump blames Democrats for the deaths of the children posting on Twitter “and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t. If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try!”

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