The Slatest

7-Year-Old Who Died in Border Patrol Custody Had to Wait 90 Minutes for Medical Care After Falling Ill

A bus is seen in the distance on a dirt road through the dust and sparse brush of a desert at dusk.
A bus carrying migrants near the Mexico-New Mexico border in a photo from 2007.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This post has been updated with new information.

Details emerged Friday about the death of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who was dehydrated when she and her father turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents in southwestern New Mexico on Dec. 6 to seek asylum in the United States.

An NBC report, citing unnamed government officials, says a group of migrants that included the girl was “given access to water at Antelope Wells,” the isolated New Mexico border crossing where they were initially held before being taken to a larger Border Patrol facility in the town of Lordsburg; it’s not clear, however, whether the girl (whose name has not been released) actually drank any at that time. NBC reports, via the same officials, that the girl was vomiting before leaving Antelope Wells but that no medical personnel were available to treat her until she arrived in Lordsburg, which is 90 miles away. A statement by the Customs and Border Protection agency said only the girl “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days” when she was taken into custody.

At some point, per the Washington Post, the girl began to have seizures. She was eventually treated by emergency personnel and then transported to an El Paso hospital via helicopter but did not recover. An initial diagnosis listed “septic shock, fever and dehydration” as the cause of her death.

Democratic Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who has been active in investigating the conditions in which minors and families are held near the U.S.-Mexico border, said on CNN Friday morning that he had not seen evidence that the girl was mistreated.

Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a Fox News appearance on Friday that while her “heart goes out” to the family of the deceased girl, they bear responsibility for the incident because they “chose to cross [the border] illegally” in a remote area. (U.S. port-of-entry stations where migrants can legally cross to apply for asylum are often overloaded, and individuals attempting to use them are frequently told to come back at another time.) Nielsen said the girl was given “immediate care” but did not elaborate.

Lordsburg, New Mexico has a population of 2,464. The border station housed there is responsible for monitoring 80 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and 4,256 square miles of land inside the U.S.