Her name was Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, and she had traveled with her father from a rural indigenous community in Guatemala’s Alta Verapaz region.
They were among a large group of migrants whom Border Patrol agents detained last week in a remote area of the New Mexico desert.
Two days later, 7-year-old Jakelin was dead after becoming violently ill, according to Tekandi Paniagua, Guatemalan general consul in Del Río, Texas.
The US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility has launched an investigation to “ensure all appropriate policies were followed.”
Jakelin and her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, 29, hailed from the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community of Raxruhá, Paniagua said.
After the migrants were detained December 6, Jakelin started vomiting and suffered a high fever en route to a Customs and Border Protection station in Lordsburg, New Mexico, according to Paniagua. She was treated by a medical team, but her condition worsened the following morning. She had seizures and was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she suffered cardiac arrest.
On Saturday morning, Customs and Border Protection agents informed Guatemalan authorities that Jakelin had died, Paniagua said.
On Monday, Paniagua met with Jakelin’s father, who he said was devastated and was allowed by US authorities to see his daughter one last time.
The Washington Post first reported Thursday that the girl died of dehydration and septic shock last week in El Paso after Border Patrol took her into custody when she crossed illegally with her father into the United States.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Border Patrol, said in a statement.
“Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances. As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”
The girl and her father were part of a group of migrants who approached Border Patrol agents in the New Mexico desert, the newspaper reported, citing Customs and Border Protection records.
The child began having seizures hours after she was taken into custody and was airlifted to the Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, Customs and Border Protection told the Post.
She went into cardiac arrest and was revived by medics, but the girl couldn’t recover and died less than 24 hours later, the Department of Homeland Security told CNN.
A department representative said an autopsy would be performed but the results could take weeks.
“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the medical team treating the child, we were unable to stop this tragedy from occurring,’ the representative told CNN. “Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally. Please present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely.”
US Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said late Thursday in a statement he was “devastated by reports that a seven-year-old girl who was taken into Customs and Border Patrol custody died of dehydration and exhaustion. I’ll be asking for a full investigation by the Inspector General and Congress into the conditions and circumstances that led to her death.”
“We can do better as a nation,” said Castro, a member of the House Foreign Affairs and House Intelligence committees.
“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.”
‘Worst possible outcome’
In a statement, Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, called for “a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths.”
“This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions,” the statement said. “Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths. In 2017, migrant deaths increased even as the number of border crossings dramatically decreased.”
US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, another Texas Democrat, called for transparency in the investigation of the child’s death.
“I am deeply saddened by this girl’s death. There must be a complete investigation and the results shared with Congress and the public,” he said Thursday on Twitter.
The girl’s death comes months after a toddler died six weeks after being released from an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas. The toddler’s mother and her attorneys alleged she contracted a respiratory infection after they arrived at the detention center and ICE provided substandard medical care for the toddler.
The child and her mother came from Guatemala and were detained after crossing into the United States via the Rio Grande.