President Donald Trump sought to deflect blame for the deaths of two Guatemalan children in U.S. custody by claiming they were “very sick” when they arrived, even though immigration authorities have said both children passed initial health checks.
The mother of the boy who died Christmas Eve told The Associated Press on Saturday that her son was healthy when he left with his father on their journey hoping to migrate to the U.S.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited Border Patrol agents and medical officials at the southern border amid promises of more thorough health screenings for migrant children.
Trump, whose administration has faced widespread criticism over the deaths, pointed on Twitter at Democrats “and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.”
He also said that both children “were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol.”
The two tweets were his first comments on the Dec. 8 death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal and the death on Christmas Eve of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo.
Felipe’s mother, Catarina Alonzo, told the AP that her son reported he was doing well every time that he and his father called home during their trek. She spoke with AP journalists at the family’s home in the remote Guatemalan village of Yalambojoch, her stepdaughter Catarina Gomez translating her indigenous language Chuj into Spanish.
“When he called me, he told me he was fine. He told me not to worry because he was fine,” Catarina Alonzo said.
The mother said the last time she spoke with Felipe he was in Mexico at the U.S. border and said he was eating chicken. Their village is in Nenton municipality in Huehuetenango province, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Guatemala City.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued detailed statements about both children’s deaths.
An initial screening of Jakelin “revealed no evidence of health issues,” CBP said on Dec. 14. It wasn’t until several hours later that Jakelin’s father, Nery Caal, told agents that she was “sick and vomiting,” CBP said. Attorneys for the Caal family have also denied claims that Nery “hadn’t given her water in days,” as Trump wrote.