LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO – Chairman-elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Joaquin Castro and his colleagues have reported on what they found at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry and Lordsburg Border Patrol Station.
The CHC members visited New Mexico to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
Following their investigation of Caal’s journey, the CHC members briefed the press on how these holding stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge at our borders.
Here is the transcript from the news conference:
[30:55] Question: Were you able to speak with the agents involved?
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman-elect Joaquin Castro: “No. I put in a request, I spoke to CBP Commissioner McAleenan twice. The second time I spoke with him, I asked him to be able to speak with the agents on this trip. He said, at that time, that we would not be able to visit with the agents.
“And I believe that Speaker Designate Pelosi also reached out to him to make the same request. They did make a supervisor [available], he was Supervisor Stokes I believe, who was one of the supervisors on duty during the time that this incident occurred. But we didn’t’ get to speak to the agents involved.”
[32:45] Question: What is the most pressing need you have right now, and where will the money come from?
Chairman-elect Castro: “Well, I think the most pressing need is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. And we talked about some of the systemic failures and shortcomings. Dr. Raul Ruiz spoke about some of the medical shortcomings, the fact that they didn’t have the training, the personnel, the supplies, or the equipment to deal with this kind of situation either at Antelope Wells, or on the bus ride, or here at Lordsburg, so it’s all of that.
“And in the next several days and weeks, we’re going to be coming up with the policy recommendations that we believe, you know, need to happen in order to improve this.
“Well let me make one more comment with respect to that. When we have a President who is emphasizing building a wall—spending billions of dollars to build a wall—when the lives of asylum seekers, and I would argue Border Patrol agents, are at stake.
“Because of a lack of infrastructure, a lack of training, a lack of supplies, a lack of equipment, then you can tell it’s a President whose priorities are very misplaced. And really a President who is completely out of touch with what’s happening at CBP and the realities on the ground.”
[34:33] Question: This is obviously a very extraordinary situation—a tragic one. They are dealing with 163 on the night that Jakelin came across. 200 the last two nights. Obviously you have talked about people coming to seek asylum. Is there anything in our current legal framework that is attracting an unusually high number of people coming here, or as they say trying to take advantage of legal gaps in our current law? Or do you believe that all these people are fleeing violence and you know, deserve asylum?
Chairman-elect Castro: “Well the asylum decisions are made on an individual case basis. Look, I think that’s what’s going on now in this period of time in history in the United States is the same thing that went on with the Irish who came here in big waves, and Germans who came here in big waves, and other ethnic groups. I think that it’s no different.”
[36:14] Question: The criticism has been of Trump policy is that it’s immigration policy is forcing people into these poor, remote areas. But that’s been going on for some time for various reasons. What is different in this particular situation [sic]?
Chairman-elect Castro: “Well, we can only go by what we are being told by CBP. And they have said that for example, there were over 200 folks who showed up this morning—very early this morning in the morning hours. So, they tell us that for this area, and that for the more rural parts, that it’s an unusual occurrence.
“So, we believe that a big part of the reason for that is because of the change in policy by the Trump Administration.”
[36:52] Question: Congressman, do you think the Commissioner should resign over this?
Chairman-elect Castro: “I had the opportunity to speak to CBP Commissioner McAleenan twice. I know other Members have not had the opportunity to speak with him, have not had the opportunity to visit these facilities, and also investigate and inquire about the death of this young girl.
“Based on my conversations with him, based on his conduct, I believe that he should step down. I believe that would be the best course of action at this time.
“We have also asked the question: ‘When was Secretary Nielsen, his direct boss, made aware of Jakelin’s death?’ and ‘If she was made aware of the death before Congress was, why she didn’t report to Congress that this had occurred?’
“As he [Commissioner McAleenan] mentioned to us earlier, this is a rare occurrence—the death of a young girl in Border Patrol custody. And he said that he didn’t want to politicize the death in front of Congress. But because it’s such a rare occurrence, that makes it arguably the most significant thing that could have been discussed that morning.
“We also, even today, although Commissioner McAleenan, some of the top brass, certainly the agents here, were very willing to have conversations about all kinds of policies and practices, the Commissioner rode over on the bus with us for an hour and a half and openly took our questions, heard our concerns, and talked about some of his concerns.
“But in all of that, it’s clear that many of these facilities, not just the ones that we visited, are under-resourced, that there is a lack of training, a lack of equipment, and that all of that adds up to bad priorities or wrong priorities.
“I’m going to let him speak for himself, but we were on the same page on some of the things that we spoke about.
“You know, we had at times a very, obviously very lively, but sometimes contentious conversations. I’m not just speaking about myself, but all of us in the group. And so you asked me the question whether I think he resign, if I was the head of DHS, I would ask him to step down.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro speaking outside the Border patrol Station at Lordsburg, New Mexico on Dec 18, 2018. (Photo: NBC News)