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A woman died this week after suffering a medical emergency in an area between the two border fences in San Diego where large groups of migrants have regularly been waiting to be processed by Border Patrol, U.S. officials confirmed.
On Friday, human rights advocates set up an altar and held a moment of silence in memory of the woman, a 29-year-old from Guinea, they said.
Advocates said the woman was traveling with two people.
The cause of death is still unknown.
A spokesperson with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that Border Patrol agents were approached by a person in medical distress on Wednesday about 5:45 a.m., a mile west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
“Shortly thereafter, the person experienced a medical emergency,” according to the statement. “First aid was immediately initiated, and the individual was subsequently transported to a nearby hospital by local emergency medical services.”
The person was pronounced dead at the hospital, the spokesperson said.
CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the incident, he added.
At a news conference Friday, local advocates demanded answers from the authorities.
Pedro Ríos, U.S.-Mexico Border Program Director of American Friends Service, said advocates had been vocal for months that the practice of holding people in “open-air detention areas” between the fences could cause harm or death. “Unfortunately, we have reached that point now,” he said.
For more than a month, thousands of migrants from various countries — many of them asylum seekers — have arrived to the U.S.-Mexico border awaiting to be processed by Border Patrol authorities.
Many of them have set up makeshift camps both in Jacumba Hot Springs and near the San Ysidro border crossing.
Dr. Alexander Tenorio, who has offered his services as a volunteer on the U.S. side of the area between the two fences near San Ysidro, said he has seen cases of children and adults with fever, respiratory illnesses, broken bones, open wounds and gashes, among other afflictions.
“I do fear it’s going to happen again,” he said. “Especially with more unforgiving weather that’s going to be coming in a few months. And if they are living in these conditions, there’s going to be more injury, more harm and more death, unless there’s adequate medical care and more support.”
On Friday, the area known as Whiskey 8 near San Ysidro, where volunteers have regularly provided humanitarian aid through the border wall, was empty of waiting migrants. However, activists know that the scene can change in mere hours.
Ríos said that on average, migrants have to wait between 24 and 36 hours before being processed by U.S. officials. Advocates have identified eight places — four near San Ysidro and four near Jacumba Hot Springs — where temporary camps have been set up along the border.