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December 14, 2018

Seven-Year-Old Child Dies in CBP Custody: DHS Response Furthers Falsehoods

On December 13, the Washington Post reported that Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, a seven-year-old girl from Guatemala died from dehydration and shock while in Border Patrol custody after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico. After news broke about her tragic death, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement saying, “Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally. Please present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely.” This response lays bare the fundamental hypocrisy in DHS's messaging to asylum seekers, which requires them to present themselves at ports of entry but blocks them from doing the same.

Jakelin and her father would have been turned away from some of the nearest ports of entry to where they were apprehended. The Washington Post reported that the girl and her father were taken into custody south of Lordsburg, New Mexico, near Antelope Wells. Human Rights First has documented numerous examples of illegal turn-backs by CBP officials at ports of entry near Antelope Wells, like El Paso in Texas and Nogales in Arizona and has received on-the-ground information from the ACLU of Texas and the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales. Here are some of the ways that ports of entry near Antelope Wells are blocking refugees from exercising their legal right to seek asylum:

El Paso: The ACLU of Texas reported that CBP agents have been stationed on international bridges to turn away asylum seekers from ports along the Rio Grande for months. In October, the ACLU witnessed agents blocking 30 families from accessing the port, telling them that “there is no room.”

Asylum seekers who come to Ciudad Juarez, outside of the El Paso port of entry, are told by Mexican immigration officials to go to a migrant shelter, Casa del Migrante. There, they are assigned a number, written in black ink on their forearm. CBP tells Mexican officials how many to admit per day, usually processing between 20-30. The Robert Strauss Center estimated in December 2018 that asylum seekers in El Paso are waiting an average of 1-2 weeks before they are permitted to cross.

After the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) visited El Paso and McAllen CBP and ICE facilities in June 2018, they concluded that CBP’s practice of placing limits on the number of individuals allowed to seek asylum at port of entry leads some “who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.” One Border Patrol supervisor confirmed that CBP sees more illegal entries around ports that restrict the number of individuals permitted to seek asylum each day.

Nogales: Asylum seekers who reach the Nogales port of entry are turned away from the turnstiles by CBP officials who tell them they have “insufficient processing capacity.” CBP has been unpredictable and extremely restrictive in its processing of asylum seekers at the Nogales port of entry. In mid-May 2018, for example, the Kino Border Initiative stated that CBP stopped processing asylum seekers at the Nogales port for ten weeks. By August, CBP officers in Nogales were processing ten to fifteen families per day. In September, however, there was another week in which no asylum seekers were processed.

Asylum seekers in Nogales sleep outside to hold their places in line. Joanna Williams of the Kino Border Initiative reported to Human Rights First that by early December the wait for asylum processing at Nogales was about 9 days.

Jakelin and her father would have had to travel at least 70 miles to reach the nearest ports of entry that are known by civil society actors to be places where asylum seekers are processed. Antelope Wells is approximately 70 miles from the Douglas port of entry, 150 miles from the El Paso port of entry, and approximately 180 miles from the Nogales port of entry (see maps, below). If Jackeline and her father were walking, it would have taken over 24 hours to walk to the Douglas port of entry, 50 hours to walk to the El Paso port of entry, and over 60 hours to walk to the Nogales port of entry.

While CBP officials at other ports of entry near where Jakelin and her father were placed into custody—such as Antelope Wells, New Mexico port of entry or the Naco, Arizona port of entry—are legally obligated to process asylum seekers, there is no publicly available information about the processing of asylum seekers at these smaller ports, and fellow advocacy organizations have reported to Human Rights First that these ports lack the civil society infrastructure to support asylum seekers. Indeed, news reports about Jakelin’s death have noted that the Antelope Wells was “not staffed” when she and her father approached the CBP facility during the night.

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