0526 GMT July 20, 2019
Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who had traveled with her father to the US from a rural area in Guatemala's impoverished Alta Verapaz region, died while in custody at a US Border Patrol detention center.
They were among a group of 163 migrants detained by Border Patrol agents the night of December 6 -- three days after her birthday -- in a remote area of the New Mexico desert, officials said.
Two days later, Jakelin had died, Customs and Border Protection's officials said on Friday.
Jakelin had vomited and stopped breathing while in Border Patrol custody. She later went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain swelling at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where doctors determined she'd had no food or water for days, Presstv reported.
US Border Patrol is investigating the incident to make sure whether regulations were observed.
The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) inspector general said that it was investigating the incident which was announced publicly after a one-week delay.
By law, DHS is required to notify Congress within 24 hours of the death of immigrants in federal custody.
DHS, however, insisted it was not to blame for Jakelin's death.
"My heart goes out to the family for all of DHS,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen said Friday morning during an appearance on "Fox & Friends."
“This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey," Nielsen argued while emphasizing that the family had crossed into the US illegally.
Meanwhile, the girl’s death has drawn renewed criticism of the Trump administration's cruel anti-immigration policies.
Human rights advocates say Jakelin's death illustrates the scope of inhumane treatment of asylum seekers by the US officials.
"The tragic and preventable death of an innocent seven-year old girl should not be seen as a mistake made in an otherwise humane system, but rather a deliberately cruel and dehumanizing system that has produced yet another death," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an immigrant rights advocacy group.
Approximately 15,000 minors are being held in US immigration detention centers, which are at 92 percent capacity, NPR reported this week.
Trump's critics say he is to blame for the administration’s anti-immigration stance which led to Jakelin’s death.
Democrats, in a letter to DHS Acting Inspector General John Kelly on Friday, said they learned of the incident through media reports one week after Jakelin’s death.
"It is hard to overstate our frustration with the fact that we learned of this incident through media reports one week after the incident occurred,” Democrats wrote in the letter.
"I am devastated by this news, but I am hardly surprised. The Administration has repeatedly shown a disinterest in solving immigration issues," said Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), the possible incoming head of the House Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee.
"The Department of Homeland Security leadership must be held responsible for their failure to properly care for migrants in their custody and their inability to lead the hardworking officers under their command," said Correa.
"This young girl was a casualty of the President’s obsession with building an unnecessary border wall, instead of investing in the resources and training our national security professionals need," added Correa.
Democrats said DHS' focus on deportations and wall construction amount to a mismanagement of available resources.
Democrats asked for further investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death.
"Due to the seriousness of this tragedy and the many questions that remain, we request you initiate an investigation into this incident, as well as CBP policies or practices that may have contributed to the child’s death," wrote the Democrats, led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is expected to take over the powerful House Judiciary Committee in January.
Democrats noted that would-be asylum seekers have been turned away at legal ports of entry, forcing them to attempt riskier illegal border crossings.
"The investigation should focus on policies and practices designed to protect health and safety, as well as policies and practices that may result in increased migration through particularly harsh terrain," it added.
The criticism also comes as the Trump administration faces off with Democrats over the president's demand for billions of dollars to fund a border wall.
Congress must pass a Homeland Security appropriations bill by Dec. 21 to avoid a partial government shutdown, while lawmakers remain divided over funding for the wall.
Democrats have resisted Trump's request for $5 billion funding the border wall.
Trump told Democrats leaders Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in a televised Oval Office meeting that he would "take the mantle" of a shutdown over the wall.
The threat of the shutdown looms large.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the expected incoming chair of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, criticized the administration on Friday for requesting funding for wall construction, rather than other Homeland Security provisions.
Trump is "proposing squandering $5 billion on this border wall," adding instead, "We need funding to hire more law enforcement agents to focus on opioid, gang, trade and child exploitation investigations," The Hill on Saturday. quoted Roybal-Allard as saying.