Hispanic Caucus Members Say Systemic Failures Contributed to Jakelin Caal’s Death

Dec 18, 2018
7:07 pm

The following media release and summary was shared Tuesday night by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus:

LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO—Today, the Chairman-Elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Joaquin Castro (TX-20) led a delegation to Antelope Wells Port of Entry and Lordsburg Border Patrol Station to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin in U.S. CBP custody. Following their investigation of Jakelin’s journey, the Members briefed the press on how these stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge at our borders.

Highlights from today’s press conference:

Chairman Elect Joaquin Castro (TX-20): “There were other disturbing facts like the fact that during the 94-mile bus ride, where she started to present serious symptoms of medical and bodily failure, there was nobody on board that could offer any kind of medical help to her. And no medically trained personnel. It’s systemic failures like that, that we’ve had a chance to uncover today, and also will have an opportunity to recommend policy changes to correct those.” 

Assistant Speaker Elect Ben Ray Luján (NM-03): “No running water, no area to bathe, no water to cook. At Antelope Wells, not just for the undocumented immigrants —these asylum seekers— but also for the agents. We found out that the food provided both at Antelope Wells and here in Lordsburg to the asylum seekers is granola bars, small juice boxes, and frozen burritos. And what I would describe as inhumane holding cells where we saw children with adults, and overcrowded facilities with a shared toilet. Completely open. At Antelope Wells, two porta-potties, not just for the agents, but for the hundreds of undocumented immigrants and for asylum seekers that are coming in as well.

“What’s apparently clear is that there needs to be an independent investigation, and when I asked the Commissioner if he would support a congressional investigation, his response was he would welcome it if necessary. Well, it’s abundantly clear after today, that it is absolutely necessary.”

Congressman Al Green (TX-09): “What I saw in this facility is unbelievable and unconscionable. The [ASPCA] would not allow animals to be treated the way human beings are being treated in this facility. There are two sets of victims in this facility. The women and children who are here being processed, and the officers who are having to process them. They are both victims because to a certain extent these officers are doing what they are told, following rules, regulations and orders, but it has caused them to be put in a position where they are hardening.

“To tolerate what I have seen is unthinkable. We as members of Congress have got to do more to make sure that this kind of facility is either shut down or we have got to do more to make it a lot better than it is.”

Congressman Raul Ruiz (CA-36): “What I found here is that there are some really serious systemic obstacles, and problems, and failures in the system to provide the care that a child so lovingly deserves when they are in our custody.

“If it is true that the child had not eaten, and was vomiting for several days, the child does not look normal when they present to the emergency department or anywhere. And a cursory physical exam to determine if the pulse is high or the fever, if she has a fever. Anybody who is dehydrated it not happy, is not excited, they look really sick. At that point, perhaps an aeromedical evacuation could have been called and she could have still been alive.”

Congresswoman-Elect Veronica Escobar (TX-16): “To see more children, more families, who are put in concrete rooms, in conditions that many of us believe are in inhumane, and that are not reflective of the America that all of us know we can and should be.

“It’s no longer necessarily simply economic migration that we’re seeing. But we’re seeing asylum seekers who are running for their lives, who are trying to save the lives of their families.  These are not criminals, these are not people trying to do us harm. The families that we have seen today are people just like you and I. People who are looking for a better life. People who are looking for hope, and who unfortunately end up finding almost as much misery when they cross our borders as the misery that they fled.”

Congressman Lou Correa (CA-46): We in Washington have to do our job. And our job is to take care of this country, and to make sure that we take care of those asylum seekers… When I do go back to Washington, I am going to go and do my job. I sit on Homeland security and I am going to make sure we have hearings on this issue.”

Congresswoman-Elect Sylvia Garcia (TX-29): “This first, beyond everything, is a human tragedy. Today is International Migrant Day. Think about that. And here we are talking about a young angel, seven-years-old, who died here in the process of just trying to come here for a better life. Think about the father who had to carry her into that small room, Dr. Ruiz —so small I think my closet is probably larger— put on a hard table where now sits two microwaves. Not a bed. And that’s where she was determined to be so ill. But also think about the mother who they had to find, and give her word that her daughter has died .The daughter that she thought she was waving goodbye to, to come to a better world here in America. It’s a human tragedy, but it’s one of our own making.”

Congressman-Elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04): “But instead of finding answers, we leave here today asking more questions. Especially the question of why the government agency responsible for caring for people in their custody has failed to adapt, to innovate, to be flexible, and to respond to the basic needs of little children, of families, mothers and fathers in their custody. What we saw today was clearly an example of the lack of competency and the lack of resource investment to be able to respond adequately to this humanitarian crisis.”

The CHC also shared this transcript:

Question: Were you able to speak with the agents involved? 

Castro: “No. I put in a request, I spoke to CBP Commissioner McAleenan twice. The second time I spoke with him, I asked him to be able to speak with the agents on this trip. He said, at that time, that we would not be able to visit with the agents.

“And I believe that Speaker Designate Pelosi also reached out to him to make the same request. They did make a supervisor [available], he was Supervisor Stokes I believe, who was one of the supervisors on duty during the time that this incident occurred. But we didn’t’ get to speak to the agents involved.”

Question: What is the most pressing need you have right now, and where will the money come from?

Castro: “Well, I think the most pressing need is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. And we talked about some of the systemic failures and shortcomings. Dr. Raul Ruiz spoke about some of the medical shortcomings, the fact that they didn’t have the training, the personnel, the supplies, or the equipment to deal with this kind of situation either at Antelope Wells, or on the bus ride, or here at Lordsburg, so it’s all of that.

“And in the next several days and weeks, we’re going to be coming up with the policy recommendations that we believe, you know, need to happen in order to improve this.

[…]

“Well let me make one more comment with respect to that. When we have a President who is emphasizing building a wall —spending billions of dollars to build a wall— when the lives of asylum seekers, and I would argue Border Patrol agents, are at stake.

“Because of a lack of infrastructure, a lack of training, a lack of supplies, a lack of equipment, then you can tell it’s a President whose priorities are very misplaced. And really a President who is completely out of touch with what’s happening at CBP and the realities on the ground.”

Question: This is obviously a very extraordinary situation—a tragic one. They are dealing with 163 on the night that Jakelin came across. 200 the last two nights. Obviously you have talked about people coming to seek asylum. Is there anything in our current legal framework that is attracting an unusually high number of people coming here, or as they say trying to take advantage of legal gaps in our current law? Or do you believe that all these people are fleeing violence and you know, deserve asylum? 

Castro: “Well the asylum decisions are made on an individual case basis. Look, I think that’s what’s going on now in this period of time in history in the United States is the same thing that went on with the Irish who came here in big waves, and Germans who came here in big waves, and other ethnic groups. I think that it’s no different.”

Question: The criticism has been of Trump policy is that it’s immigration policy is forcing people into these poor, remote areas. But that’s been going on for some time for various reasons. What is different in this particular situation?

Castro: “Well, we can only go by what we are being told by CBP. And they have said that for example, there were over 200 folks who showed up this morning—very early this morning in the morning hours. So, they tell us that for this area, and that for the more rural parts, that it’s an unusual occurrence.

“So, we believe that a big part of the reason for that is because of the change in policy by the Trump Administration.”

Question: Congressman, do you think the Commissioner should resign over this?

Castro: “I had the opportunity to speak to CBP Commissioner McAleenan twice. I know other Members have not had the opportunity to speak with him, have not had the opportunity to visit these facilities, and also investigate and inquire about the death of this young girl.

“Based on my conversations with him, based on his conduct, I believe that he should step down. I believe that would be the best course of action at this time.

“We have also asked the question: ‘When was Secretary Nielsen, his direct boss, made aware of Jakelin’s death?’ and ‘If she was made aware of the death before Congress was, why she didn’t report to Congress that this had occurred?’

“As he [Commissioner McAleenan] mentioned to us earlier, this is a rare occurrence—the death of a young girl in Border Patrol custody. And he said that he didn’t want to politicize the death in front of Congress. But because it’s such a rare occurrence, that makes it arguably the most significant thing that could have been discussed that morning.

“We also, even today, although Commissioner McAleenan, some of the top brass, certainly the agents here, were very willing to have conversations about all kinds of policies and practices, the Commissioner rode over on the bus with us for an hour and a half and openly took our questions, heard our concerns, and talked about some of his concerns.

“But in all of that, it’s clear that many of these facilities, not just the ones that we visited, are under-resourced, that there is a lack of training, a lack of equipment, and that all of that adds up to bad priorities or wrong priorities.

[…]

“I’m going to let him speak for himself, but we were on the same page on some of the things that we spoke about.

“You know, we had at times a very, obviously very lively, but sometimes contentious conversations. I’m not just speaking about myself, but all of us in the group. And so you asked me the question whether I think he resign, if I was the head of DHS, I would ask him to step down.”