Two days after a migrant boy from Guatemala died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) — and nearly two weeks after a Guatemalan girl died in similar circumstances — the secretary for homeland security blamed numerous parties for what she called a “crisis” along America’s southern border.
Those parties included smugglers, traffickers and the parents who bring their children with them as they travel north.
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In a statement issued Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the U.S. has seen a “dramatic increase at the border of families and unaccompanied children crossing our border illegally.”
Caal had been in custody for about eight hours before she started having seizures and showed a fever of 105.7 F (40.9 C). She died less than a day after she was airlifted to hospital.
Alonzo, meanwhile, died after being taken to hospital with nausea, after he had previously been discharged following treatment for fever and a cold.
Nielsen noted that Border Patrol apprehended nearly 140,000 people at the southwest border in the last two months, compared to just under 75,000 in the same time frame last year — for an increase of 86 per cent, she said.
Nielsen went on to say that the U.S. has seen 68,510 family units and 13,981 unaccompanied children cross the border in the first two months of the current fiscal year, representing what she called a “dramatic change from historical trends” that has “only become starker in December.”
She blamed this trend on numerous factors, including “an immigration system that rewards parents for sending their children across the border alone, a system that prevents parents who bring their children on a dangerous and illegal journey from facing consequences for their actions, an asylum process that is not able to quickly help those who qualify for asylum, a system that encourages fraudulent claims, and a system that encourages bad actors to coach aliens into making frivolous claims.”
America’s immigration system, she said, “has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders.
“Smugglers, traffickers and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north,” Nielsen said. “This crisis is exacerbated by the increase in persons who are entering our custody suffering from severe respiratory illnesses or exhibit some other illness upon apprehension.”
She later cited statistics showing that there were six migrant deaths in CBP custody during the 2018 fiscal year, and none of them were kids.
“In fact, it has been more than a decade since CBP has had a child pass away in their custody,” Nielsen said.
“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey.”
WATCH: Family, Guatemalan town mourns for migrant girl who died in U.S. custody
Nielsen then listed actions she has directed amid news of the children’s deaths.
She said all kids in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol have received a “thorough medical screening” and that any children going forward will receive a “thorough hands on assessment at the earliest possible time post apprehension — whether or not the accompanying adult has asked for one.”
Nielsen also said she has spoken with America’s partners in Mexico to probe the causes of migrants’ illnesses on their side of the border.
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Finally, she blamed “bad judicial rulings from activist judges and inaction by Congress” for what she called the “flood of family units and unaccompanied alien children.”
“I once again ask — beg — parents to not place their children at risk by taking a dangerous journey north.
“Vulnerable populations — including family units and unaccompanied alien children should seek asylum at the first possible opportunity, including Mexico.”
Nielsen claimed there’s a “crisis” at the border despite recent research showing the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. is at a decade-long low, according to the non-partisan Pew Research Center.
The number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico — the biggest source of unauthorized immigration — has been falling since 2007, from just under 7 million at that time to 5.45 million in 2016, for a decrease of about 1.5 million in that time frame.
Unauthorized immigration from Central America has been growing, however, going from 1.5 million in 2007 to 1.85 million in 2016, for a gain of about 350,000 in the same period.
Meanwhile, this chart shows how on the southwest border from Mexico and Central American countries trended over the course of a decade:
Nielsen also said that immigration in two months represented a “dramatic change from historical trends.”
Those numbers would, indeed, represent a dramatic change based on historical data from CBP.
There were 303,916 border apprehensions in the 2017 fiscal year. That number grew to just under 400,000 the following year, for an increase of about 30 per cent.
That represents an apprehension rate of just over 33,000 per month — though the figures fluctuate from one month to the next.
WATCH: Seven-year-old migrant girl dies after U.S. Border Patrol arrest
Nielsen’s most recent statistics showed just under 140,000 people being apprehended on the southern border, representing a monthly rate of nearly 70,000.
That would represent the highest monthly apprehension rate that the southwest border has seen in a decade, absent subsequent fluctuations.
The last time it was that high was in 2007, when it hit just under 72,000 per month.
The latest figures also weren’t broken down by citizenship, either, so it’s difficult to know whether people apprehended in 2018 were mostly coming from Mexico or Central America.
Mexico has, traditionally, been the biggest source of border apprehensions, but numbers from that country have been lower in recent years.
The latest numbers may buck historic trends, but 2018’s figures still show yearly totals that are close to the lowest the southwest border has seen in over a decade.
WATCH: Medical checks ordered on migrant kids in U.S. custody