DHS: 7-Year-Old Migrant Who Died Was Not Ill Upon Initial Screening

Amber Athey | White House Correspondent

The Department of Homeland Security claimed in a statement Friday that the 7-year-old migrant girl who died in their custody was not ill upon an initial screening and was offered food and water.

The story of the young girl from Guatemala exploded on Thursday after The Washington Post reported that she died of dehydration shortly after Border Patrol took custody of her and her father, who entered the country illegally. WaPo’s headline suggested that Border Patrol bore responsibility in the child’s death, but the Department of Homeland Security is now disputing that characterization.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the child died last week approximately eight hours after she was taken into custody. Her father reportedly told Border Patrol agents that the child had not had anything to eat or drink in days.

The father and daughter, identified by a Guatemalan official as Nery Caal and Jakelin Caal, crossed the U.S. border into New Mexico in a remote location 90 miles from the nearest Border Patrol station.

The Washington Post’s initial report noted that they were not aware of any provisions offered to the family when they were first taken into custody.

“Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures,” WaPo said.

DHS claims in their statement, however, that they interviewed the Caal family and offered them food and water. The father denied that Jackeline was ill and signed a form indicating that there were no visible signs of trauma and that the child appeared to be in good health, according to a copy reviewed by the Associated Press.

“At this time, they were offered water and food and had access to restrooms,” DHS claimed.

The Caal family crossed the border with a group of nearly 200 migrants — the nearest ports of entry were allegedly too small to handle a sizeable group of migrants and did not have adequate medical services. Border Patrol intended to transport the migrants by bus to Lordsburg, 90 minutes away, in two groups.

According to the AP, there were 50 unaccompanied migrant children on the first bus to Lordsburg.

REFILE - ADDING NAMES: Cheili Nalleli Mejia Meza, a five-year-old migrant girl from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, cries as she holds the hand of her mother, Maria Lila Meza Castro, 39, after they ran away from tear gas released by U.S. border patrol near the border wall between the U.S and Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Cheili Nalleli Mejia Meza, a five-year-old migrant girl from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, cries as she holds the hand of her mother, Maria Lila Meza Castro, 39, after they ran away from tear gas released by U.S. border patrol near the border wall between the U.S and Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

When the bus returned for its second trip to pick up more migrants, including Nery and Jakeline Caal, Nery informed Border Patrol agents that his daughter had fallen ill and was vomiting. (RELATED: Fact Check: Was A 7-Year-Old Girl In Border Patrol Custody For A Week Before Dying Of Dehydration?)

“Out of an abundance of caution, agents immediately requested that an EMT meet the bus on arrival at the Lordsburg station,” DHS said. “The transport bus arrived at the Lordsburg station shortly before 0630.  At that point, the father notified agents that the child was not breathing.  Border Patrol EMTs began medical care and requested an ambulance.”

The child was revived twice before a helicopter arrived to transport her to a children’s hospital, but she passed away at Providence Hospital due to sepsis shock. Her father was present and DHS says they notified Guatemalan officials of Jackeline’s death.

“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.”

Other Trump administration officials, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley, pointed to the child’s death as a reason to discourage large groups of migrants from entering the country illegally.

“It’s a needless death, and it’s 100 percent preventable,” Gidley said. “If we could just come together and pass some common sense laws to disincentivize people from coming up from the border and encourage them to do it the right way, the legal way, then those types of deaths, those types of assaults, those types of rapes, the child smuggling, the human trafficking that would all come to an end.”

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