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Trump blames deaths of migrant children on ‘Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies’

"If we had a Wall, they wouldn't even try!"

Donald Trump in New York, New York on June 16, 2015. (Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
Donald Trump in New York, New York on June 16, 2015. (Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

For the first time, President Donald Trump acknowledged the recent deaths of two migrant children who were in the custody of his government on Saturday — by blaming Democrats.

In a series of tweets, Trump suggested that the deaths of seven-year-old Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo were “the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies.”

After implying that his proposed border wall — which has led to the partial shutdown of the federal government that the president desired — would have prevented their deaths, Trump pivoted to claiming “the two children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol.”

It was not entirely clear why Trump was blaming “Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies” since current laws have existed for decades or longer under White Houses and Congresses that were controlled by both parties.

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Also, the president’s claim that the children “were very sick before” being detained by his government — which mirrors Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s recent remark about the migrants “harboring illnesses” — has been disputed.

Caal died of severe dehydration and shock on December 8 after apparently being denied medical care for hours before her death. The seven-year-old from Guatemala, who was attempting to cross the border in New Mexico with her father, was taken into custody on December 6 around 9 p.m. and put onto a bus. Her father reportedly notified Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents that the seven-year-old started vomiting around 5 a.m., but Caal had stopped breathing, started having seizures, and reached a body temperature of 105.7 degrees by the time she received medical attention roughly 90 minutes later.

Gómez was in CBP custody for six days — despite a 1997 settlement agreement that bars children from being detained for more than 72 hours — before dying on Christmas Day. The eight-year-old from Guatemala was detained with his father after trying to cross the border in Texas and transferred between several CBP facilities before becoming sick on Christmas Eve. Following a visit to a medical center in New Mexico, Gómez was brought back to a CBP facility with a 103-degree temperature and prescriptions for antibiotics and ibuprofen. The eight-year-old was returned to the medical center several hours later with vomiting and lethargy before being pronounced dead. An autopsy showed Gómez tested positive for “influenza B,” but New Mexico officials said the cause of death is still being determined.

Border agents picked up both children and their fathers near legal ports of entry. Caal was detained near the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico and Gómez was detained by a port of entry in El Paso, Texas.

ThinkProgress’ Rebekah Entralgo has explained how Trump has made legal immigration claims more difficult for migrants like Caal and Gómez.

While the Trump administration has urged immigrants to enter the country legally by presenting themselves at ports of entry — as the girl and her family did — border officials have instituted a policy of “metering,” allowing only a few people through every day, resulting in overcrowded ports and long wait times. Immigration law enforcement officials have even turned away families and individuals planning to apply for asylum, which is a clear violation of international human rights law.

As a result, some have become desperate, crossing between ports of entry, not because they want to, but out of necessity.

Officials said Caal hadn’t consumed any food or water for days when she arrived at the CBP detention center. There have been documented cases of federal border agents proactively seeking out water jugs left for migrants and destroying them.

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Despite Trump’s never-ending fear-mongering about immigrants, numerous studies have shown that immigrants — including the undocumented — are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born U.S. citizens.

Studies have found that immigrants boost the earnings of U.S. workers by around 1 percent, are 30 percent more likely to start businesses than non-immigrants, and will be needed to help fill the 58.6 million job openings that are expected in the coming decades.

Undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.7 billion in state and local taxes each year and help fund programs like Medicare and Social Security even though many can’t collect the benefits.

Numerous studies have shown that increased border enforcement — like walls — are not a deterrent to crossings. Apprehensions by border control, which are used to assess overall attempted crossings, are at a historic low and have been in steady decline since 2000.

Over a third of the roughly 3,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico already contains fencing or similar barriers. Trump’s long-desired wall would “add about 350 miles of fencing to an existing 654-mile border wall; even if the project were completed, about 1,000 miles along the border would still have no physical barrier.”