A 7-year-old illegal immigrant girl died last week after being caught jumping the border with her parent, the apparent victim of the rough journey north through Mexico, Homeland Security said Friday morning.
She was found Dec. 6 by Border Patrol agents, reportedly part of a large group of Central Americans who’d just crossed into the U.S. She was in Border Patrol custody for eight hours, and agents noticed she was having seizures and had a fever of 105.7 degrees.
She was taken by air ambulance to a hospital in El Paso, had a heart attack, was revived but did not recover and died within a day, Homeland Security said.
The department, in a statement, said the girl was “overcome by the elements” of the journey, and said the blame lies with the adults who made her take the trip.
“As we have always said, traveling north illegally is extremely dangerous. Drug cartels, human smugglers and the elements pose deadly risks to anyone who comes across the border illegally,” the department said.
Illegal immigrant families from Central America have surged toward the U.S. in recent years, with a massive spike in numbers over the last couple of months. Most are hoping to take advantage of slow deportations in the U.S. to find a place in the shadows here, making bogus asylum claims then counting on lax enforcement to ensure they never get deported.
Traveling with a child is key to the plans, because under a 2015 court ruling families are put into a more lenient track for enforcement and are released from custody usually within 20 days. There’s been a rise in the number of men attempting to come to the border with children, which experts attribute to that.
In the case of the 7-year-old, agents said they began to provide treatment once they spotted the girl’s condition.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the group of people the girl was with was caught 90 miles away from a processing center and had to be transported. The group was so large that it took time to process all of them and to spot her condition, explaining the eight hours she was in custody.
“We gave immediate care,” the secretary told Fox News in an interview Friday morning.
Officials said an autopsy is expected but may take weeks to get results, and they said an internal investigation will determine if the agents followed the right procedures.