Migrant Girl, 7, Dies after Being Detained at US Border

14 December, 2018

A 7-year-old girl died while being detained by U.S. immigration officers, government officials said.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday called the death a "tragic situation" but said it was not to blame.

The officials said the girl suffered seizures and a high fever soon after being detained with a group that included her father near the U.S.-Mexico border last week.

FILE- Shoes and a teddy bear, brought by a group of U.S. mayors, are piled up outside a holding facility for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas, near the Mexican border, June 21, 2018.
FILE- Shoes and a teddy bear, brought by a group of U.S. mayors, are piled up outside a holding facility for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas, near the Mexican border, June 21, 2018.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials said the girl was found to have died from shock and a lack of water. They said that she did not seem to have had anything to eat or drink for several days.

The girl was found December 6 near Lordsburg, New Mexico, by U.S. Border Patrol agents. She was held for about eight hours before she began having seizures, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers said. Emergency medical workers found that the girl had a fever of 40.9 degrees Celsius. She was flown to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she later died.

The results of the examination of the body could take weeks, officials said.

The girl is believed to be from Guatemala. Her death comes as an increasing numbers of families and children take the dangerous trip north from Central America.

Immigration officials are being criticized for their treatment of migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal officials said a report of what happened to the girl will be completed.

The Department of Homeland Security, which supervises the Border Patrol, said in a statement: "Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child's life." The statement also expressed sympathy for the family.

The girl's death raises questions about whether border agents knew she was ill or whether she was given food or liquids during the time she was held. Immigration officials said hundreds of people who have been affected by the desert heat are saved by Border Patrol every year.

When a Border Patrol agent arrests someone, that person gets processed at a Border Patrol building. The person usually is held no more than 72 hours. Then the person is either sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, or, if the individual is Mexican, the person is sent back to Mexico.

Immigration officials said that the girl died at the hospital less than 24 hours after being sent to ICE. It is unknown what happened to her during the eight hours before she started having seizures.

The girl was traveling with a group of 163 people. They turned themselves in on December 6, immigration officials said. It is unclear where her father is.

Immigrants, lawyers and activists have expressed concern with the conditions of Border Patrol holding facilities.

In Tucson, Arizona, a lawsuit claims facilities are dirty, cold and do not have things like blankets. A judge hearing that lawsuit has ordered the agency in Tuscon to provide blankets and to continually release surveillance video from inside.

Agents in Arizona see groups of more than 100 people, sometimes including babies, all the time.

Arresting these groups causes problems for agents. They have to wait for vehicles that have baby seats to take the migrants to processing facilities. Some of the facilities take 30 minutes to reach.

The death of the 7-year-old girl comes after a baby died in May just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas.

President Donald Trump's administration is trying to ban people from asking for asylum if they crossed the border illegally. A federal appeals court has temporarily halted that ban. However, on Tuesday, the administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to permit the ban to go into effect.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

fever – n. a body temperature that is higher than normal

shock – n. a serious condition in which the body is not able to get enough blood to all the parts of the body

facility – n. something such as a building that is built for a specific purpose

blanket – n. a covering made of cloth that is used especially on a bed to keep you warm

surveillance – adj. the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime