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Death of 7-year-old migrant girl on US border raises questions

China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-17 09:15

A woman holds a picture of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin during a protest held to demand justice for her in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday. JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS

WASHINGTON-Just 7 years old, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin was picked up by US authorities with her father and other migrants this month in a remote stretch of New Mexico desert. Some seven hours later, she was put on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol station but soon began vomiting. By the end of the two-hour drive, she had stopped breathing.

Jakelin hadn't had anything to eat or drink for days, her father later told US officials.

The death of the Guatemalan girl is the latest demonstration of the desperation of a growing number of Central American families and children showing up at the United States-Mexico border, often hoping to claim asylum, and it raises new questions about how well authorities are prepared.

Customs and Border Protection said on Friday that the girl initially appeared healthy and that an interview raised no signs of trouble. Authorities said her father spoke in Spanish to border agents and signed a form indicating she was in good health, though a Guatemalan official said late on Friday that the family's native language was a Mayan dialect.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said agents "did everything in their power" to save her.

The episode drew immediate questions from members of Congress and others about whether more could have been done. There were only four agents working with a group of 163 migrants, including 50 unaccompanied children, and only one bus to take them to the nearest station 94 miles away. The protocols the agents followed failed to alert them to any signs of distress until it was too late.

"A 7-year-old girl should not be dying of dehydration and shock in Customs and Border Protection custody," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general opened an investigation, and congressional leaders promised one as well.

High fever

Nery Caal, 29, and his daughter Jakelin were in a group of more than 160 migrants who handed themselves in to US border agents in New Mexico on Dec 6. Jakelin developed a high fever while in the custody of the CBP and died two days later at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, of suspected liver failure.

The US government defended Jakelin's treatment, and said there was no indication she had any medical problems until several hours after she and her father were taken into custody.

CBP said on Friday it didn't immediately publicize the death out of respect for the family but is reviewing its disclosure practices. McAleenan didn't mention the girl's death when he was questioned by senators this week on border issues.

"The agents involved are deeply affected and empathize with the father over the loss of his daughter," McAleenan said on Friday. "We cannot stress enough the dangers posed by traveling long distances, in crowded transportation, or in the natural elements through remote desert areas without food, water and other supplies."


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