On Wednesday, eager to frame the death of a Guatemalan child as the fault of the Department of Homeland Security, one CBS news anchor had to be enlightened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan that the release of the child from the hospital was not the decision of DHS, but the medical staff at the hospital.
Co-anchor Dana Jacobson’s first question asked McAleenan, “In our reporting earlier, Commissioner, it was said that the child had a 103-degree fever earlier in the day. Why bring a sick child back to a detention center instead of keeping him at the hospital?” McAleenan replied, “That’s a call made by the medical professionals.”
As Newsbusters notes, Jacobson apparently couldn’t digest McAleenan’s answer, pressing, “But are you satisfied with the medical conditions and facilities, I guess, resources — that are available at these detention centers? Should sick children come back into your custody there?”
McAleenan, stifling his exasperation, replied, “I’ve explained to Congress, I’ve testified on this, I’ve talked about it publicly for months and months,” before explaining in detail what Jacobson apparently couldn’t understand.
Later in the segment, CBS News correspondent and author Tony Dokoupil implied other illegal immigrant children might have died after being held by DHS, saying, “I'm curious. We know of two children who’ve died in the past month. Can you guarantee us that there are not more children that we have not heard about that have also passed away?”
The text and video of the segment are below:
Host Adriana Diaz: Commissioner, good morning. Thank you for joining us. Just to start us off, what is the latest in the investigation of the eight-year-old’s death?
McAleenan: Good morning. Well, with any death in custody we report immediately to our office professional responsibility and the DHS Inspector General. Both of those independent investigative arms have responded and already interviewed the father, and they'll be pursuing an investigation into the circumstances around this tragic event.
Jacobson: In our reporting earlier, Commissioner, it was said that the child had a 103-degree fever earlier in the day. Why bring a sick child back to a detention center instead of keeping him at the hospital?
McAleenan: Well, that’s a call made by the medical professionals. He was in the emergency room, he spent almost five hours there. It was actually a border patrol agent who noticed that the child did not appear to be well on the morning of Christmas eve and the decision to transport the child and the father to the hospital, and it was the emergency room doctors and nurses who made the decision to discharge the young boy.
Jacobson: But are you satisfied with the medical conditions and facilities, I guess, resources — that are available at these detention centers? Should sick children come back into your custody there?
McAleenan: I’ve explained to Congress, I’ve testified on this, I’ve talked about it publicly for months and months. That what we’re seeing with these flows of huge numbers of families with lots of children — young children as well as unaccompanied minors — coming into border patrol custody after crossing the border unlawfully. Our stations are not built for that group that’s crossing today. They were built 30, 40 years ago for single adult males. And we need a different approach. We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities, and I’m committed to improving our conditions, even as we work on the broader problems: border security, and of course, solving the issues in our legal framework that are inviting these families and children to make this dangerous journey.
Diaz: Commissioner, given the misalignment in conditions and resources that you just outlined, I’m curious. We know of two children who’ve died in the past month. Can you guarantee us that there are not more children that we have not heard about that have also passed away?
McAleenan: Certainly there are not more children that you have not heard about in TBP custody that have passed away. This is an extraordinarily rare occurrence. It’s been more than a decade since we’ve had a child pass away anywhere in the TBP process, so this is just devastating for us. We’ve got over 1,500 emergency medical technicians that have been co-trained as law enforcement officers. They work every day to protect people that come into our custody. Border patrol agents made 4,300 rescues the last year. But for this specific scenario where we have these two children that crossed into El Paso sector of our border patrol sector, we responded by doing secondary medical checks. That means paramedics who are also border patrol agents checking each child in our custody to determine their health status again, in addition to the original processing. We’re doing dozens of hospital trips every single day with children that have fevers or manifest other medical conditions and we’ve asked for help. We’ve got two coast guard teams deploying today to support our border patrol agents and checking the welfare of children in our custody. And we’re working to move them to ICE and to better custody situations and releases as quickly as we can, so that we don’t have them in border patrol stations.
Diaz: Commissioner, we were in Mexico traveling with the caravan for days, and we saw children traveling ten hours a day at least, walking under the hot sun, sleeping on the street in really dire, unhealthy conditions. What are you doing to ensure that these children are healthy, as healthy as they can be? And to have two deaths in three weeks, are these children slipping through the cracks?
McAleenan: Well, what we’re seeing is more children than ever before coming into our custody. At this pace in December we’ll have almost 25,000 children, most of them accompanied by parents who have crossed our border and arriving in custody. That’s an enormous flow that’s very different than what we’ve seen before. You mentioned the caravan families that did walk significant distances through Mexico before getting some transportation north of Mexico City. We’re seeing three different models. We’re seeing families coming in the hands of smugglers in very risky situations, taking almost three weeks, held in stash houses against their will, extorted, oftentimes subjects of abuse. We also see this new phenomenon of commercial bus transit, still in the hands of criminal organizations, but only taking four or five days to get to our border. That’s the phenomenon we’re seeing in El Paso sector where we’ve had these two tragedies. Of course, with so many children, with flu season, with many people coming ill, our job is to try to identify any children that need medical care and get them to a hospital as quickly as we can. And we're doing that. We're doing that with heart every day.
Dokoupil: Commissioner, quick yes or no. Is the government shutdown for a border wall that you may need, is worth it?
McAleenan: So, we need investments across the cycle —
Dokoupil: We’re really tight on time. Yes or no, do you think that shutdown is worth it?
McAleenan: We need border security investments, absolutely.
Jacobson: All right, commissioner, thank you. We appreciate the time.
McAleenan: Thank you.