Statement on Death of Seven-Year-Old Girl in CBP Custody
New York City – Human Rights First today mourns the death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who died after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol. She and her father were reportedly detained in New Mexico after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between official ports of entry. Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer issued the following response:
The tragic death of this young girl while in government custody is both horrific and inexcusable. Her death and the agency’s failure to promptly report it to Congress require a thorough and independent investigation. In its statement on this child’s death, DHS attempted to shift the blame onto parents who cross the border, urging them to “present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely.” But DHS and CBP have deliberately slowed down and limited processing at ports of entry, forcing vulnerable men, women, and children to wait for weeks and months in unsafe and unstable conditions in Mexico before allowing them to exercise their legal right to seek protection. The administration has forced parents to make an impossible choice between camping out at the border where they are sitting ducks for kidnappers and traffickers, or undertaking the dangerous—and sometimes, fatal—journey through the desert.
This country is more than capable of protecting the health and safety of asylum seekers and migrants who reach our border. Instead of subjecting fleeing families to cruel and punitive treatment, the administration should address the humanitarian crisis at the border by ending the illegal practice of turning away asylum seekers at ports of entry, increasing capacity for processing asylum claims at ports, and moving away from policies meant to punish those seeking safety.
We applaud the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General’s announcement that they will investigate Jakelin’s death. We look forward to partnering with Congress to ensure critical oversight into the conditions and circumstances that led to her death and accountability for those involved. No child deserves to die for seeking safety in the United States.
Over the last month, our researchers have documented CBP’s practice of reducing the number of asylum seekers they process at official ports of entry, known as “metering." Our newest report finds that illegal turn-backs and orchestrated bottlenecks at ports of entry prevent many asylum seekers from requesting protection, encouraging crossings between ports. These processing restrictions are stranding growing numbers of asylum seekers with legitimate protection claims in danger in Mexico for months on end, putting their safety and health further at risk. Our researchers have spent time in make-shift migrant shelters and on bridges and pedestrian walkways where asylum seekers are left at risk after being turned away from U.S. ports of entry.
To speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.
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