WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Friday that a 7-year-old migrant girl from Guatemala had died hours after she was taken into U.S. Border Patrol custody.
The girl’s death was first reported on Thursday by the Washington Post, which said she died last week after crossing into New Mexico.
DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen said the girl had been part of a large group that crossed the border from Mexico about 90 miles from the nearest immigration processing facility.
“It’s heart-wrenching, is what it is, and my heart goes out to the family, all of DHS. This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey,” Nielsen said in an interview with Fox News Channel.
“We gave immediate care. We’ll continue to look into the situation,” Nielsen added.
Migrants from Central America sometimes trek over miles of inhospitable terrain to try to cross into the United States away from official immigration posts.
The girl and her father were detained by immigration authorities on Dec. 6 in New Mexico as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in, the Post reported.
The girl, who was not named, started having seizures and emergency responders measured her body temperature at 105.7 Fahrenheit (40.9 Celsius,) a DHS spokeswoman said in a statement. An autopsy was expected but the results could take several weeks, she said.
The Post said the girl was taken to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she died of dehydration and shock.
Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Coons said the girl’s death was part of a larger moral problem of the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants who make a risky journey to flee violence, and cuts to programs aimed at helping to stabilize Central American countries.
“I think we should do everything we can to help make sure families don’t feel compelled to make that risky trip, but once they do, Border Patrol needs to do everything they can to avoid this kind of senseless and needless loss of life, particularly for children,” Coons told MSNBC in an interview.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)