US border chief: Eveything was done to try and prevent migrant kids’ deaths
US Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Sunday that CBP immigration agents did everything possible to prevent the deaths of two Guatemalan children who died while in US custody this month.
“Our agents did everything they could as soon as these children manifested symptoms of illness to save their lives,” Aleenan told ABC’s weekly news show “This Week” in an interview.
McAleenan made his remarks after on Christmas Eve 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died in a New Mexico hospital after being in the custody of US immigration agents for more than a week, after he and his father were apprehended following their illegal crossing of the border from Mexico.
In addition, on Dec. 8, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died in an El Paso hospital after illegally crossing into the US from Mexico with her father.
McAleenan said that the deaths of the two children were “absolutely devastating” for the border agents.
In making his statement about border agents’ efforts to safeguard the well-being of the children, McAleenan said that “I’ve looked at our operation reporting, the initial investigative reporting, I looked at the fathers’ statements and interviews,” noting that it has been more than 10 years since a migrant child has died in US custody.
To prevent such tragedies from occurring again, McAleenan said that he and Homeland Security Scretary Kirstjen Nielsen had ordered border officials to provide medical checkups for all under-18 migrants who come into US custody, as well as for those against whom immigration proceedings are initiated.
He said US officials were trying to change the system to be able to give all children a medical exam when they enter US custody so that the authorities can be assured that they are healthy.
This week, Nielsen attributed the two deaths to the increase in detentions on the border and to the fact that more immigrants - she said - are arriving sick at the border.
According to Nielsen, over the past two months the Border Patrol detained 139,817 undocumented migrants on the border with Mexico, 86 percent more than the 74,946 apprehended during the same period last year.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Saturday also said that the children were already sick before they were apprehended and blamed the deaths on Democratic lawmakers, tweeting that “Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats 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!”