EL PASO, Texas – EL PASO, Texas—Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spent Friday and Saturday at the U.S.-Mexico border to get a firsthand look at medical screenings at Customs and Border Protection stations.
However, some critics say Nielsen’s visit to El Paso on Friday and Yuma, Arizona on Saturday won’t do much to improve the situation at the border.
“This visit is in any case damage control of what they have done already in regards these refugees and immigrants that we have at the border,” said Fernando Garcia, Founding Director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
The visit comes in the wake of the deaths of two detained migrant children. On Christmas Eve, an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, died in CBP custody. Earlier this month, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, who was also from Guatemala, died in CBP custody. The little girl’s body arrived home on Monday.
“It is too late for at least two families that have two children died in the custody of Border Patrol. This is too late. And, I don’t exactly what they’re going to do.”
The deaths prompted policy changes within DHS. Nielsen called for a series of “extraordinary protective measures” including engaging with the Centers for Disease Control to investigate the uptick in sick children crossing the borders, asking the U.S. Coast Guard Medical Corps and the Department of Defense to intervene, and expanding medical treatments and assessments.
Nielsen also slammed the immigration system for the rise of families and unaccompanied children illegally crossing the border.
DHS did not immediately release details of the visit, saying the event was closed to the press.
On Twitter, El Paso mayor, Dee Margo, a Republican, confirmed his meeting with Secretary Nielsen, welcoming her and adding, “more federal officials should visit the border when making decisions about the immigration system.”
But, Garcia believes the crisis will persevere as long as the Trump administration’s policy of detaining migrant children continues.
“I think what happened to Jakelin, to Felipe, it could happen again pretty soon. This visit is not making any difference because the policy that is criminalizing immigrants, that is putting children in jail is not changing independently of the visit of Secretary Nielsen,” said Garcia.
On the other hand, some, like University of Texas at El Paso Political Science Professor Todd Curry, say the Secretary’s visit to the border at least draws attention to the problem, which is better than no action at all.
“If Washington is looking at what’s taking place, that’s better than if Washington was not looking at what’s taking place. The real question for me is, is there going to be follow through?” said Curry.