The head of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, should lose his job after failing to immediately disclose the death of a migrant child in Border Patrol custody, Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) said Tuesday.
“If I was the head of DHS, I would ask him to step down,” Castro said at a press conference in Lordsburg, New Mexico.
CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The San Antonio Democrat made the comments after he and a delegation of lawmakers with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus visited the facilities where 7-year-old Jackelin Caal had been in Border Patrol custody before she died earlier this month.
Castro and other visiting lawmakers cited several shortcomings at the forward operating base in the far-flung outpost of Antelope Wells, where Caal and her father were detained for hours before her condition deteriorated on a transport bus heading to the Border Patrol station at Lordsburg.
The operating base did not have running water. Bathroom facilities were limited to two portable toilets. Food was limited to granola bars. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) described the holding cells where both children and adults were locked up as “inhumane.”
And when Caal started vomiting and seizing on a transport bus, 90 minutes away from their destination, no one on board was trained to offer medical assistance, lawmakers said.
McAleenan bore direct responsibility for a key failure: keeping quiet about the Guatemalan child’s death ― even as he testified before Congress on Dec. 11, Castro said.
Lawmakers did not become aware of Jackelin’s death until The Washington Post reported it last week.
“The issue started when CBP violated the law and did not notify Congress within 24 hours that Jackelin had died within their custody,” Castro said.
McAleenan acknowledged violating federal law, he added.
The CBP commissioner said Sunday that he did not disclose the child’s death during his testimony because the agency had yet to complete a privacy waiver and he was unsure if Jackelin’s mother had been notified. McAleenan also said he wanted to avoid politicizing the death.