June 20, 2019
Mr. Kevin K. McAleenan
Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Cc: U.S. Border Patrol, Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent, Roy Villareal
Department of Homeland Security, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Cameron Quinn
We write to express our deep and urgent concern about the death of Gurupreet Kaur, a six-year old migrant girl from India. According to a Reuters article, a representative from your agency confirmed that she died of heat stroke in the Arizona desert last week near the Lukeville port of entry after her mother went to search for water. The Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner has recorded nearly sixty migrant deaths this year alone in one county of the Arizona desert, which follows the 127 migrant deaths they recorded in this county during 2018. In southern Arizona, more than 3,000 individuals who, due to the presence of border walls, attempted to cross in remote areas, ultimately perished in the desert. Historical studies show that large numbers of deaths in remote desert areas did not occur prior to the construction of border walls. Additionally, in the last year, a number of migrants have died, including several children, both within and outside of CBP custody.
SAALT has been documenting the rise of asylum seekers from South Asia over the last two years and the human rights abuses and civil rights violations they face in detention facilities. We are equally troubled by the escalating number of arrests of Indian and Bangladeshi nationals by your agency both at the southern border and interior.
We believe that your agency’s enforcement through deterrence policy, including border walls that funnel people into the desert; violent escalation of arrests; criminalization of volunteer humanitarian aid workers; intentional rejection of asylum seekers attempting to cross at ports of entry (metering); the dangerous migrant protection protocols; and deportation of individuals with significant medical conditions are linked to the rise in migrant deaths.
In this particular case of Gurupreet Kaur, we request answers to the following questions and an immediate investigation into Gurupreet’s death:
- Were Gurupreet or any of the other four migrants she was traveling with turned away by CBP officials at the Lukeville or any other port of entry?
- Describe the interaction between Gurupreet’s mother and CBP officials when they found her.
- Have CBP officials encountered the three other migrants — two women and an 8- year old child? Describe that interaction. Where are all of them now?
- What language access is provided by CBP to migrants who speak Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi?
SAALT and many other national and local organizations, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General have documented egregious, dangerous, and punitive conditions experienced by asylum seekers in detention facilities across the country. While we remain concerned about these abuses, we are also disturbed by the increase in migrant deaths along the U.S. Mexico border and see these as linked issues between CBP and ICE. Despite vastly increased budgets for DHS generally and CBP particularly, the treatment of migrants has degraded significantly, and we deserve answers immediately.
Interim Co-Executive Director
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)