Nearly a week after the fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Washington Post that a 7-year-old migrant girl had died in their custody. More details about what, exactly, took place have been slowly surfacing over the past 24 hours — that officials ignored her father when he reported she was ill, and that she was denied care for an hour-and-a-half. (Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has attempted to place blame on the girl’s father in a widely criticized statement.)
Here’s what we know so far.
The girl and her father were traveling from Guatemala.
On the night of December 6, U.S. Customs and Border Protection took into custody more than 160 asylum-seekers in the New Mexico desert. Among the group was a 7-year-old girl and her 29-year-old father. On December 14, an official with Guatemala’s foreign ministry identified the two as Jakelin Caal and Nery Caal. Per the official, the family was from an area in northern Guatemala called Raxruha.
The girl started vomiting and having seizures after being taken into custody.
About eight hours after being taken into custody — before Border Patrol transferred the asylum-seekers to a station in Lordsburg, New Mexico — Nery Caal reported to officials that his daughter was vomiting and running a high fever — later charted at 105.9. Officials reportedly ignored his concerns for a full hour-and-a-half.
According to NBC, by the time the migrants arrived at their destination 90 miles away, Jakelin had started having seizures and stopped breathing. At this point, emergency responders reportedly came to the border station, where they revived Jakelin twice, then air-lifted her to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. It was, however, too late. Within hours, she died at the hospital of cardiac arrest with her father by her side, per a statement from CBP. She had “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days,” per CBP, and the Post reports that her cause of death was septic shock, fever, and dehydration.
In the days since the first report of her death, some of the details that have emerged have conflicted with the Trump Administration’s story. In a statement to the press, Nery Caal’s lawyers said that “Jakelin had not been crossing the desert for days, and that her father “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water.” The lawyers also requested that federal officials no longer engage in “further speculation about her cause of death.”
DHS put out a statement blaming her death on her parents.
After the news of the girl’s horrific death broke December 13, the Department of Homeland Security issued a remorseless statement that tried to place the blame on her father.
“Traveling north through Mexico illegally in an attempt to reach the United States, is extremely dangerous,” reads the statement. “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. 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.”
CBP officials also said that asylum-seekers were provided access to water at Antelope Wells, where the girl became feverish and ill.
Immigrants-rights groups say this is another heartbreaking example of our broken immigration system.
On December 13, Cynthia Pompa, the advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, released a statement calling 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,” she 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.”
On Friday, the El Paso Times reports that U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke called for a “full investigation around the circumstances of her death,” stressing that this is “an opportunity for us to do the right thing, not just for that little girl’s family, but for all of those who are leaving some of the deadliest countries on the face of the planet today.” Per the Albuquerque Journal, DHS will conduct an internal investigation and release a report.