WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, in his first public words about two migrant children who died in Border Patrol custody, misrepresented the circumstances of their deaths as he sought to deflect any responsibility from U.S. authorities.
All the facts are not established, but Trump twisted what is known. He said both Guatemalan children were in dire health before their apprehension, yet they cleared initial health screenings and one of them was in U.S. custody for five days before suddenly falling ill.
TRUMP: "The two ... children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol. The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn't given her water in days." — tweets Saturday.
THE FACTS: This account is not supported by timelines released by Customs and Border Protection or other accounts.
As well, Trump is wrong in saying the father of the girl who died has absolved U.S. officials of responsibility. Through family lawyers, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz said he made sure his daughter Jakelin had food and water as they traveled through Mexico. The Border Protection timeline on her case says: "The initial screening revealed no evidence of health issues." And nothing was mentioned about the girl being dehydrated.
The record so far as is known neither establishes that U.S. officials were to blame nor clears them of blame, despite Trump's pronouncement.
These circumstances are laid out in the Customs and Border Protection accounts of the capture, treatment and deaths of Jakelin Caal, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo , 8, who both came to the border with their fathers:
The girl and her father were caught at 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 6 in a group of more than 100 people trying to cross the border, less than a mile or kilometer from the Antelope Wells entry port in New Mexico. The father claimed upon their apprehension that she was in good health. (It's possible she was ill before reaching the border and that she and her father did not acknowledge it. In any event, no health problems were observed.)
Her first distress was reported at 5 a.m. the next day, when her father said she was vomiting on a bus waiting to take them to a Border Patrol station at Lordsburg, New Mexico. When the bus arrived close to 6:30 a.m., the father said Jakelin was not breathing. A Border Patrol emergency technician revived her twice. She had a temperature of 105.7 degrees. At 7:45 a.m., a helicopter flew her to the nearest trauma center, in El Paso, Texas, where she went into cardiac arrest late that morning and was revived once more.
By then breathing by machine, with brain swelling and liver failure, she died on Dec. 8 at 12:35 a.m., her father with her. Officials have said she showed signs of sepsis, a condition brought on by infection.
Felipe Gomez Alonzo:
Trump's unsupported assertion that both children were very ill before their apprehension is even more flagrantly untethered from the record in the case of Alonzo.
Catarina Alonzo, the boy's mother, told The Associated Press her son was well and eating chicken after arriving at the U.S. border when she spoke with him by phone.
According to the Border Protection timeline, Felipe and his father, Agustin Gomez, were caught Dec. 18 at about 1 p.m., about 3 miles or 5 kilometers from a border port at El Paso. Late that afternoon they were transferred to an El Paso processing center and given drinks and hot food. In the first four days, agents logged 23 "welfare checks" — checking on the well-being of father and son — at two El Paso locations. No concern is noted.
Late the night of Dec. 22, they were transferred to the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station in New Mexico because of crowding in El Paso, and more health checks were logged the next day.
But the morning of Dec. 24, an agent noticed Felipe coughing, with glossy eyes, and he was taken to a hospital at about 9:30 a.m. with suspected flu or strep throat.
Although diagnosed with a common cold, he had a 103 degree fever and was held for observation for an additional 90 minutes before being released in mid-afternoon, prescribed amoxicillin and Ibuprofen. A few hours after his meal and meds, he vomited and agents decided at 10 p.m. to return him to the hospital.
Felipe vomited and lost consciousness on the way. Doctors could not revive him and shortly before midnight Christmas Eve, he was pronounced dead.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report.
Border Protection information on Jakelin Caal: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/statement-us-customs-and-border-protection-death-seven-year-old
Border Protection information on Felipe Gomez Alonzo: https://www.dhs.gov/news/2018/12/25/cbp-shares-additional-information-about-recent-passing-guatemalan-child
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