In a glaring illustration of the violence and cruelty that are now emblematic of U.S. immigration and border policies, it was announced Thursday that a seven-year-old girl from Guatemala died of “shock and dehydration” after being detained by Border Patrol in New Mexico.
This is the second high-profile death of a migrant to occur recently in New Mexico while in the custody of immigration authorities, the other being the entirely preventable death of asylum-seeker Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, 33, also from dehydration.
Desert military bases
Seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Marquin, her father and 161 other Central American migrants entered the United States at the Antelope Wells, NM border crossing, located in a remote desert area. The group sought out
the authorities, something that is increasingly common as families and children pursue asylum and humanitarian protection from often life-threatening situations.
After coming into Border Patrol custody, Jakelin and the others were held at Bounds Forward Operating Base, one of 17 “forward operating bases” recently constructed in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to improve the government’s ability to detect, catch and detain anyone migrating North for any reason.
The official description of these border facilities as “forward operating bases” tells us everything we need to know about the racist and cruel character of U.S. policy toward immigrants and migrants alike. A forward
operating base (FOB) is a military base of operations located in a “forward” position, in this case, along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ready for war, not to help
As such, the Bounds military outpost is only staffed and equipped to carry out a single, apparently military, operation: catching human beings, including children. Most notably, and also fatally for young Jakelin, it is not staffed or equipped to respond to the most basic needs of human beings, frequently in dire want, once they are “caught.”
Bounds military outpost is not equipped to handle medical emergencies, nor is it equipped to provide adequate food and water relief, even though by definition its mission is to make frequent contact with substantial numbers of people in need of immediate life-saving relief! The predictable outcome of this entire inhumane people-catching operation is unnecessary loss of life and mass, unaccounted-for suffering.
Tragically, it was at Bounds that young Jakelin fell ill and then went unnoticed or ignored by the soldiers at this military outpost.
While waiting eight hours with her father to be transported to the nearest Border Patrol processing facility in Lordsburg, NM, Jakelin began vomiting and feeling sick. On the way to Lordsburg, she began having seizures and
stopped breathing. After arriving at the processing facility, she was resuscitated and airlifted to an El Paso, TX hospital where she died 15 hours later.
Jakelin was healthy before going into Border Patrol custody, says her father. The family is calling for an “objective and thorough” investigation.
U.S. government is responsible
U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not even bother announcing that a child had died in its custody until one week after the fact, and only then because a major newspaper had caught wind of it.
The announcement was followed by a flurry of official statements from CBP and the Department of Homeland Security that combined tepid expressions of grief with vigorous denials of responsibility—somehow prior to the finding of an investigation or autopsy—and vulgar excuse making.
Early reports stated that border authorities at Bounds did not give Jakelin food or water. This is easy to believe because Border Patrol agents like those stationed at Bounds routinely seek out and destroy supplies of water left by humanitarians along the Southwest border, depriving people just like Jakelin and her father of water to drink as standard practice.
The DHS claims that they did offer food and water. In this case, however, it’s not clear what would have been deadlier! An internal investigation by DHS of its forward operating bases in the Southwest published in 2016 found that drinking water at these outposts, including Bounds, was so contaminated that their own agents refused to drink it, cook with it, bath in it, or wash their clothes in it. The report described the water as “discolored and odorous,” with “excessive amounts” of chlorine, iron and dirt.
It’s unclear at this point if Border Patrol agents at Bounds actually offered Jakelin water; and if they did, it is unknown if the water was the same unsafe, contaminated water the DHS previously found plagued Bounds. It
is well known, however, that drinking extremely contaminated water can rapidly lead to a blood infection, otherwise known as sepsis. It causes flu-like symptoms that can appear within six hours and, left untreated, is able
to kill within 12 hours.
Perhaps most cynically of all, the DHS is attempting to inoculate itself from a deepening public outcry and the potentially harmful findings of a yet to be completed investigation and autopsy by pointing out that Jakelin’s father signed a health waver at Bounds indicating that she was in good health.
Not only is this the most bureaucratic and procedural of all possible defenses, but the health waver DHS is referring to was supplied in English and translated by border agents into Spanish to Jakelin’s father, whose native language is the Mayan language Q’eqchi’. That DHS considers as a legitimate waver-of-responsibility having armed agents get someone to sign a document in a language they do not understand gets to the very essence of the entire culture of cruelty, racism and impunity inside CBP and DHS.
Democrats and Republicans agree on militarized borders
The tragic death of Jakelin has brought into the national spotlight once again a pattern of generalized abuse, including of young children, by U.S. authorities directed against immigrants. This abuse was already of epidemic proportions during the Obama administration, and it only continues under the Trump administration.
Four days after Jakelin died in an El Paso hospital next to her anguished father, and two days before her untimely death was revealed to the public, Donald Trump met with the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office. There was a surprising “scuffle” broadcast on live TV over funding for a border wall. The Trump position was that you need a wall to “secure our borders,” and the Pelosi-Schumer position was that you don’t need a wall to “secure our borders.” There was no disagreement in this hyped-up “scuffle” over the
racist notion that the borders needed securing from Latin American refugees fleeing violence and poverty.
The fact is that the Pelosi-Schumer “liberal” version of border security, as opposed to the Trump version, was already quite effective in driving migrants into deadly desert areas where seven-year-old Jakelin, and countless others, ultimately died.
A movement of international solidarity independent of the Democratic Party is what we need. Abolish ICE and CBP! Full rights for immigrants now!