President Donald Trump on Saturday pinned the recent deaths of two migrant children on the southern U.S. border on his usual political foe, the Democrats, along with what he called “their pathetic immigration policies.”
Trump’s reaction came four days after an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy with the flu died in government custody after surrendering to immigration authorities at the border with his father. He was the second child to die in government custody this month, following 7-year-old Jakelin Caal from Guatemala, who died on Dec. 8.
Prior to the deaths, no child had died in Customs and Border Patrol custody for more than a decade, according to CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. Over the past two years, the Trump administration has strived to crack down on asylum-seekers at the border.
“Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t,” Trump wrote Saturday afternoon.
He added: “If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try!”
Trump also falsely claimed that the deceased 7-year-old’s father “said it was not their fault,” referring to immigration authorities. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the father told them he had not been able to give his daughter food or water for “days,” the family has called for an “objective and thorough investigation” into the incident. The father also said the girl was healthy before arriving in the U.S.
The president’s comments are in line with his administration’s prior statements denying any culpability for children who die in U.S. custody.
“Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said earlier this month.
Trump echoed that sentiment on Saturday, claiming that his proposed border wall would deter migrants from impoverished Central American countries from seeking asylum in the U.S.
However, most of the people living in the U.S. illegally do so by simply overstaying legally obtained visas, the Center for Migration studies reported last year. The massive infrastructure project’s would-be effectiveness is debated.
Trump has not yet backed down from his fight to secure funding for the wall, which led to a partial government shutdown that started last week and will almost certainly extend into the new year.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the day Trump made his statements as Sunday.