Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz says the death of a young girl from dehydration at the US-Mexican border should be a “message” to other Central American migrants planning to make the dangerous overland journey.
“Look the sad reality is, we have a 7-year-old who has died. She should have never, ever made that journey,” the Republican former congressman said on Friday. “That should be the message, don’t make this journey, it will kill you.”
Jason Chaffetz, speaking about Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7 year old girl who died in the custody of US Border Patrol: "That should be the message, don't make this journey, it will kill you." pic.twitter.com/qXNsAWFyBE
— Brendan Karet 🚮 (@bad_takes) December 15, 2018
She was taken into custody around 9:15 p.m. on December 6, near the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico. The young girl and her father, along with 163 others, turned themselves into U.S. Border Patrol agents and were subsequently bused to a Border Patrol station, where they arrived at 6:30 a.m. on December 7.
According to the girl’s father, she had began vomiting on the bus and CBP agents were notified at 5 a.m., but she did not receive any medical care until they arrived at the border station a full hour-and-half later.
By that time officials said, she had stopped breathing. Around the same time, the girl began having seizures, according Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) records obtained by The Washington Post, and her body temperature had reached over 105 degrees. She died of severe dehydration and shock less than 24 hours later.
U.S. border officials have come under criticism for how they handled the child’s medical crisis, and more broadly, for their lack of preparedness in meeting the medical and physical needs of the migrants, who might not have had water or food for days by the time they finally reach the US border.
Chaffetz’s tone-deaf comments echoed those of other prominent Republicans and administration members who have commented on the tragedy. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also appeared on Fox offering a similar take as Chaffetz.
While she expressed sympathy for the girl’s family, Nielsen said her “heart goes out to all of DHS” and that said she “cannot stress enough how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally.”
FOX & FRIENDS: What do you know about the 7-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody?@SecNielsen: "This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally… I cannot stress [enough] how dangerous this journey is." pic.twitter.com/bjFMdFlW3E
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 14, 2018
The official response from DHS similarly blamed the child’s death on the family’s decision to cross the border “illegally.”
“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the medical team treating the child, we were unable to stop this tragedy from occurring,” the statement read. “Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally.”
As ThinkProgress has previously reported, the journey from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border is dangerous in large part because DHS has ensured it be as dangerous as possible.
U.S. immigration policies have forced ports of entry to shut down. Migrants, many of whom like have very credible asylum claims, are being turned away, a violation of international human rights law. Wait times for asylum seekers at some ports of entry have reached 4 to 5 months.
In an act of desperation, many families — like that of Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin — crossed between ports of entry not by choice, but because they likely felt it was their only choice.