Kirstjen Nielsen Under Fire For Blaming Family Of Immigrant Girl Who Died In Border Patrol Custody

Kristjen Nielsen speaks at an event.
Hector Vivas / Getty Images

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is under fire after statements blaming the family of a Guatemalan girl who died of dehydration while in the custody of Border Patrol.

Nielsen spoke out this weekend about Jakelin Maquin, a 7-year-old girl who died within hours of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with her family and being taken into custody of agents with the U.S. Border Patrol. As the Daily Mail noted, Nielsen passed the blame back onto the girl’s family for taking her on the journey through Mexico to the United States.

“This family chose to cross illegally. What happened here was that they were about 90 miles away from where we could process them,” said Nielsen.

“It’s heart-wrenching, is what it is. And my heart goes out to the family. All of DHS. You know this is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey.”

Nielsen’s response has prompted a sharp backlash, with Senator Dick Durbin calling on her to resign.

Senator Kamala Harris joined Durbin in calling on Nielsen to resign.

Congressman Ted Lieu also said Nielsen’s response was unacceptable and said that the girl’s death will be investigated when Democrats take control of Congress starting next year.

Critics say that the Trump administration has purposely made it more difficult — and more dangerous — for migrants to enter the United States, especially ones who do so legally at designated entry points. The Texas Tribune noted in a previous report that the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents after crossing the border was extended to those entering legally to seek asylum and that some legal border entry points have been closed and armed guards put at others to keep out immigrants. As a result, more have been forced to make the dangerous crossing in desert areas, like where Maquin crossed with her family.

Maquin died within hours after being taken into custody of Border Patrol on December 6. Her family had crossed in a desert area of New Mexico, and Border Patrol agents put them on a bus to a holding station roughly 90 minutes away. As PBS noted, Jakelin and her family had to wait several hours for the bus to be available, and the young girl fell seriously ill shortly after they departed. Border Patrol agents said they did not have the ability to treat the girl until they arrived at the station, and she was airlifted to a hospital, where she died the next day.