Border Protection Didn’t Tell Congress About Death of 7-Year-Old Migrant to Avoid ‘Politicizing’ Her Passing

By Shani Saxon Dec 17, 2018

Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on December 11 to, as McAleenan put it, implore "Senators to fix the laws that are inviting families to take this dangerous path."

And although he testified three days after a 7-year-old Guatemalan migrant died while in the custody of CBP, McAleenan failed to mention the tragedy to the Senate. The little girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, lost her life "after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with her father, Nery Gilbert Caal Cruz," ABC News reports. 

The news outlet says CBP was "in the process of solidifying a privacy waiver" at the time of McAleenan’s testimony. The commissioner also claimed he "did not have confirmation that the mother had been notified in Guatemala." He added that he "did not want to risk politicizing the death of a child." 

That response didn’t cut it with Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), as reported in The Hill. Castro said he was "very disturbed by that answer." 

Per The Hill, Castro pointed out that rules require CBP to notify Congress within 24 hours if someone dies in the agency’s custody. That did not happen. He said if McAleenan was worried about privacy issues, he could have referred to the deceased as a 7-year-old girl without giving her name to the Senate. "So this is going to be a very serious problem for him and an issue that the next Congress will look into," Castro explained.

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general says that an official investigation into the child’s death has been launched. Results of the inquiry will be made public once the report is complete, The Hill reports.

On December 14, McAleenan wrote a letter to Representative Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas)—who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations’ subcommittee on Homeland Security—where he provided a “detailed timeline of the events” and referred to Maquin’s death as a "tragedy," according to ABC. "All of the available information indicates that our Border Patrol agents did everything in the [sic] power to rescue this little girl, and fought for her life, alongside professional first responders from Hidalgo County, New Mexico," he wrote in the letter.

"While reasonable concerns on the timelines of notification have been raised, and will be addressed, I am proud of our agents in the field, their efforts to rescue this little girl, and the professionalism and dedication with which they carry out their mission every day," he continued.

Maquin’s death from dehydration and shock was first reported on Thursday (December 13). The girl was taken into custody in New Mexico, and reports say she "had not eaten or consumed water for several days," according to The Hill. She died less than 24 hours after being flown to a hospital in El Paso, Texas.