Congressional delegation will visit Border Patrol site after death of 7-year-old girl in US custody

Her father says he does not blame Border Patrol agents for her death but has called, through lawyers, on a thorough investigation

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 17 December 2018 23:19 GMT
(AFP/Getty Images)

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A congressional delegation will visit the New Mexico border station where a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl was detained before dying at a nearby hospital – amid calls by her father for a “transparent” investigation into the circumstances that led to her death.

The child, Jakelin Caal Maquin, was with her father were in a group of 163 migrants that was detained by US Border Patrol on 6 December in a remote area of the New Mexico desert. She then became sick while being transferred on a 90-minute drive from Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico to a station on Lordsburg.

Officials say that she began vomiting and stopped breathing while in Border Patrol custody, and then suffered from cardiac arrest after being transferred to a Texas hospital. The death was not immediately reported by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to Congress, as is custom.

The death has become the latest flashpoint in the ongoing debate in the United States over the treatment of migrants attempting to cross into the US after travelling through Mexico, many to get away from violent and impoverished conditions in Central America. As those members of Congress planned their visit, the father has called for a “thorough” investigation into his child’s death.

Eleven members of the House of Representatives now plan on visiting the station in Lordsburg on Tuesday, led by incoming Hispanic Caucus Chairman Representative Joaquin Castro. CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan is also expected to take a tour of the station.

“We can do better as a nation”, Mr Castro said recently in a statement. ”This is a humanitarian crisis and we have a moral obligation to ensure these vulnerable families can safely seek asylum, which is legal under immigration and international law at our borders”.

Jakelin’s father, Nery Gilberto Caal, has said that he initially told agents that his daughter was sick during the transport between stations, and that the CBP officer called ahead to indicate that she would need emergency care once she arrived. When they finally arrived, CBP officers performed emergency services on the girl before taking her to the hospital, where she was revived after a cardiac arrest but died about an hour later.

The father has since said that he does not blame CBP for his daughter’s death, and has indicated he is grateful for the efforts to save his daughter’s life. But, he has contradicted the Border Patrol’s official account of the events leading up to her death — they have indicated the she had not been given food or water for days while walking through the desert to the US-Mexico border — and have said they were dropped off about a 90-minute walk from the border instead.

In a statement released to the media, Mr Caal said he is “grateful for the many first responders that tried to save young Jakelin’s life in New Mexico and Texas”.

Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, a non-profit organization working with the family said they wanted a full investigation that “will assess this incident within nationally recognised standards for the arrest and custody of children.”

“The family intends to assist in such an investigation into the cause and circumstances of Jakelin’s death,” Mr Garcia added.

Both father and daughter had lived together with Jakelin’s mother and three other children in a remote area of Guatemala.

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