US says 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in Border Patrol custody had not appeared ill
WASHINGTON — U.S. immigration officials on Friday defended their actions in the detention of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died two days after she and her father were taken into custody along a remote stretch of the U.S. border.
The girl, identified by a Guatemalan official as Jackeline Caal, had gone days without food and water, a Department of Homeland Security statement said. Yet immigration officials said she did not appear to be ill when detained.
A Border Patrol form completed shortly after she was stopped said she was not sweating, had no tremors or visible trauma and was mentally alert. "Claims good health," the form reads. Jackeline's father appeared to have signed the form, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
But, hours later, after Jackeline was placed on a bus, she started vomiting. She was not breathing when she arrived at a Border Patrol station. Emergency medical technicians revived her and she was flown to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she was found to have swelling in her brain and liver failure, officials said. She later died.
The agents speak Spanish, but the father and daughter were from an area in northern Guatemala called Raxruha in Alta Verapaz and may have spoken a Mayan dialect, not Spanish.
An autopsy was scheduled to determine the girl's death. The results could take weeks.
"The agents involved are deeply affected and empathize with the father over the loss of his daughter," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. "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."
The girl's identity was provided to AP by an official with Guatemala's foreign ministry, who identified the father as 29-year-old Nery Caal. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to share information. It was later confirmed by Customs and Border Protection officials.
Caal was driven to El Paso and was at the hospital when his daughter died, officials said. He is not detained.
Jackeline's death comes as increasing numbers of children and families are making the dangerous trek north from Central America and as immigration officials are being increasingly criticized for their treatment of migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. Homeland Security's watchdog will review what happened in the girl's case, federal officials said.
The pair were taken into custody at about 9:15 p.m. Dec. 6 in a group of 163 people in remote New Mexico, about 90 miles from the nearest Border Patrol station in Lordsburg. The group was apprehended by four Border Patrol agents. The rugged, mountainous area is mostly deserted, home to ghost towns and abandoned buildings from Old West homesteader days. It's an unforgiving terrain where Geronimo made his last stand and it remains largely isolated with no cell service and few paved roads.
There's a small Border Patrol operating base near where the group was found with food, water and bathrooms, but no medical help. They were found near the Antelope Wells port of entry, which was closed when they arrived. It's not clear if they had been trying to cross legally.
The migrants were bused from the area to Lordsburg in two groups, including about 50 minors without parents in the first group, officials said. The girl and her father didn't start the 90-mile journey until about 4:30 a.m., when the bus returned.