Democratic lawmakers are calling for the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen following the death of 8-year-old migrant Felipe Alonzo-Gomez while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Christmas Eve — the second in-custody death of a child to occur within a month.
On Wednesday, Nielsen issued a directive that all migrant children in custody ages 10 and under be given secondary medical checks. She also issued a lengthy statement that said CBP facilities are not intended to hold migrants for long periods of time, and that the detentions are the results of a broken immigration system.
“To put this in perspective, there were six migrant deaths while in CBP custody during FY 2018 – none whom were children. In fact, it has been more than a decade since CBP has had a child pass away in their custody. It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” Nielsen said. “As a result of bad judicial rulings from activist judges and inaction by Congress, we are seeing a flood of family units and unaccompanied alien children. The unprecedented number of families and unaccompanied children at the border must not be ignored. I once again ask – beg – parents to not place their children at risk by taking a dangerous journey north. Vulnerable populations – including family units and unaccompanied alien children should seek asylum at the first possible opportunity, including Mexico.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a potential 2020 presidential contender and member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was one of many who called for Nielsen’s resignation. Harris also asked Nielsen to step down in June after the secretary defended the administration’s position regarding the separation of migrant families in detention.
Congressional Republicans have not issued similar calls for Nielsen’s resignation in reaction to the boy’s death or concern over the condition of CBP detention facilities.
Additionally, Democracy for America, a political action committee founded by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, created an online petition asking for Nielsen’s resignation, though it is unknown how many signatures have been gathered. The hashtag #NielsenResign trended after Alonzo-Gomez passed away.
Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, called for Nielsen’s resignation in a Dec. 26 tweet.
As Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus, another migrant child was dying on DHS Secretary Nielsen’s watch. She should resign immediately. https://t.co/n1B8zMDqsY
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) December 26, 2018
Likely incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted that the recent deaths are “grotesque and unconscionable” and “must be investigated immediately.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the incoming chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, tweeted that Nielsen should testify before Congress on the six migrant deaths in CBP custody in fiscal year 2018.
Last month, more than two dozen House Democratic lawmakers called for Nielsen’s resignation. The effort, which was led by Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), resulted in a letter signed by 26 representatives who said that Nielsen’s actions since taking office in December have led to “real harm inflicted on children and families coming to the United States.”
Proud of my colleagues who joined me on this letter holding Sec. Nielsen accountable for her actions. As Trump's willing henchman at DHS, her policies destroyed families, and she deliberately misled the public about their consequences. The time has long passed for her to resign. pic.twitter.com/d4OfrwE2Bn
— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) November 14, 2018
Many Democratic members of Congress have also called for an investigation into the death of Alonzo-Gomez, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the ranking member and incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
I am heartbroken by the tragic news that another child has died in the custody of federal agents. I pray for comfort for the families, & I urge @DHSgov to provide Congress with the info the public deserves to know & take action to prevent such tragedies. https://t.co/Qm27BDTDwd
— Steny Hoyer (@WhipHoyer) December 26, 2018
Another tragic death in CBP custody just reinforces the need for the IG to investigate conditions in CBP’s short-term holding facilities, and of course the general suitability of such facilities for families, given that Border Patrol stations were never designed to hold children. https://t.co/hmeVlvWk1f
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) December 25, 2018