Incoming U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is calling for an independent investigation into the death of an 8-year old Guatemalan boy who died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Another 7-year-old girl died in agency’s custody this month.
Garcia visited the detention center where 7-year-old Jakelin Caal died of dehydration and shock less than 36 hours after she was detained by immigration officials. He said what he found was inadequate staffing and resources to deal with women and children coming into the country seeking asylum.
He said based on what he saw, more children are in danger of dying.
“We’re not complying with those universally accepted standards and that we’re way behind in being able to humanely and adequately diagnose children who may be in need of medical care,” he said. “Now we’ve experienced — in a period of less than three weeks — two deaths of children while in custody of border patrol.”
Garcia said the detention center he visited had mostly detained adult men, but since the humanitarian crisis in the border started this year, more women and children are detained there. He said more nurses, doctors, and psychologists should be employed to deal with the influx of immigrants seeking asylum.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General is in charge of investigating both deaths. But Garcia said a separate independent investigation is needed to find out exactly what happened. He said the death of those children should have been prevented.
By the end of June, immigration officials detained nearly 49,000 family members near the U.S-Mexico border — more than twice as many compared to the same time in 2017. In fact, that number reached the highest number since 2012, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.
Following the death of the boy Christmas Day, border patrol told the Washington Post they would conduct medical check-ups for all children in custody.
Immigration advocates say that’s still not enough and this humanitarian crisis extends beyond the border.
“This is completely avoidable. I think the issue is that we’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis in which the suffering individuals are being criminalized. And that criminal system is not equipped to deal with the real issues of the people who are migrating,” said Melanie Schikore, executive director with the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.
Schikore said border patrol has been releasing hundreds of families who passed the initial “credible fear” interview required to apply for asylum without resources. Hundreds of asylum seekers pass through Chicago, and Schikore’s nonprofit is tasked with providing basic items, including shoes and coats.
On Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin also called for the resignation of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.