Immigrant children and the underpinning of cruelty


December 21, 2018

By now you’ve probably heard about the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody last week. The death of Jakelin Caal was announced last Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after inquiries by the Washington Post.

More than eight hours after Jakelin, her father, and a large group of immigrants were taken into custody, the child began experiencing seizures, according to CBP records. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.5. She died less than 24 hours after arriving at an El Paso hospital. Autopsy results are pending.

CBP and Homeland Security officials deny that the agency is responsible for the girl’s death; the Trump Administration similarly has denied fault. A DHS Inspector General’s investigation is expected.

There are a lot of questions surrounding Jakelin’s death; hopefully, additional facts will help answer these questions. But as the number of incarcerated immigrant children along the border swells to nearly 15,000, we, minimally, know one thing: medical care for all incarcerated immigrants, including children, is not good enough.

(Earlier this year, Voices for Human Needs blogged about a new report published by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigrant Justice Center and Detention Watch Network. The report, Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention, analyzed the deaths of 15 immigrant detainees during a 17-month period from December 2015 to April 2017. In 14 of the 15 cases analyzed, “subpar and dangerous practices” were identified, including the “suicide of a person with a psychological disability who was placed in isolation.”)

The fact that nearly 15,000 immigrant children are in custody is the result of a number of questionable policies. Among them: the Trump Administration insists that families who are available to provide temporary homes to many of these children insist on fingerprinting everyone in a potential household; this policy discourages families from seeking custody of the children because the Department of Health and Human Services is sharing information with enforcement authorities, and that fear is resulting in children being detained for longer periods of time.

And regardless of how the investigation into Jakelin’s tragic and needless death pans out, it cannot be denied that there is an underpinning of cruelty when it comes to U.S. immigration policy.

This cruelty was on full display this past weekend when CHN received an urgent appeal from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. (The appeal was actually forwarded to us by the National Immigration Law Center, a CHN member.)

The appeal, in a nutshell:

“Shaima Swileh, a Yemeni national who currently lives in Egypt, is seeking a waiver to the “Muslim Ban” to allow her to be with her two year-old son Abdullah, who is currently being kept alive by life support at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Even though Shaima’s husband Ali and son Abdullah are both U.S. citizens, she is unable to come to the U.S. to be with her ailing child and her husband because of the Muslim Ban. She has applied for a waiver, but it is still pending despite her child’s life hanging in the balance.

“Shaima finds herself trapped in Egypt, desperate to be reunited with Abdullah, who she has not seen in months.

“Doctors have indicated Abdullah’s body may not be able to withstand life support for much longer, meaning time is running out for his mother who hasn’t seen or held her child since he left for treatment.”

To be sure, the two cases of Jakelin and Abdullah involve very different circumstances thousands of miles apart. And yet: they are part of a whole. Just this year alone, Voices for Human Needs has blogged on immigrant children being teargassed as well as the “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of children, including babies and toddlers, from their families at the U.S. border (see hereherehere, and here ); and much more.

When it comes to the plight of immigrant children, what in the world will 2019 bring?