The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Sunday called the deaths of two migrant children in government custody "absolutely devastating for us on every level."
"It’s been over a decade since we’ve had a child die anywhere in our processes," CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said on ABC's "This Week."
"What I can tell you about these two cases ... is that our agents did everything they could as soon as these children manifested symptoms of illness to save their lives."
Two children have died in government custody in recent weeks after crossing the border into the U.S., prompting renewed scrutiny of the Trump administration's treatment of immigrants.
Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died earlier this month from dehydration and shock after being detained with her father after they crossed the border illegally. Attorneys for her family said she did not receive water for hours after being detained, but had been in good health earlier in her journey.
Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, died last week after being hospitalized in New Mexico with flu-like symptoms, high fever and vomiting. He had been detained with his father after crossing into the U.S. without documentation.
McAleenan also said on ABC that a "multifaceted" approach is needed to address broader immigration issues.
"We need a sober-minded, nonpartisan look at our immigration laws to really confront and grapple with the fact that children and families are coming into this cycle, that’s first and foremost," he continued.
"We also need to invest in Central America. The State Department’s announcement of an unprecedented increase in aid, I think, is a tremendous step forwards."
.@MarthaRaddatz: Does the federal government bear any responsibility for the deaths of migrant children?— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 30, 2018
Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan: "I think this is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution" https://t.co/P6iz1j1VA4 pic.twitter.com/D8gpWFTbtb
In the short term, McAleenan said CBP and the Department of Homeland Security are looking at changing its systems so that it has the capacity to perform initial medical checks on children arriving at the border.
President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE, who has made curbing illegal immigration a cornerstone of his administration, blamed Democrats for the death of both children in his first public comments on their deaths.
Democrats responded with outrage, and have pledged to hold hearings in the next session of Congress to determine what happened.