Guatemalan girl’s family wants to know: Was Jakelin’s death in US custody preventable?

Posted at 3:55 PM, Dec 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-19 20:57:25-05

She survived an arduous journey from Guatemala to the United States. But somehow, during a 90-minute bus ride to a Border Patrol station, Jakelin Caal Maquin’s health deteriorated. Two days later, she was dead.

Now, attorneys for Jakelin’s family want to know whether faster medical care could have saved 7-year-old girl’s life.

The family’s attorneys say Jakelin and her dad were not given water during the roughly eight hours they were detained at the Antelope Wells port of entry, waiting to be taken to the Border Patrol station.

US Customs and Border Protection disputes that claim, saying migrants “had access to food, water and restrooms” while they were detained and waiting transfer.

But Attorney Enrique Moreno said he doesn’t understand why Jakelin, whose father said she was sick and vomiting, wasn’t examined before she was taken on a bus from New Mexico’s Antelope Wells port of entry to the a Border Patrol station, about 90 minutes away.

CBP claims that they conducted an initial health screening on Jakelin when she was first apprehended, and it “revealed no evidence of health issues.”

“Additionally, the father claimed that the child was in good health,” CBP said in a statement.

The agency said Jakelin’s dad first reported the girl’s illness and vomiting when they were already on the bus, but before the bus left.

By the time Jakelin arrived at the Lordsburg station, Jakelin’s father said his daughter was not breathing.

Moreno said those 90 minutes may have been critical.

“Sometime before the bus left, sometime around 5 o’clock, there was an indication of distress, and a decision was made at that point to transport her by bus anyway,” Moreno told reporters Wednesday.

“To our understanding, they should have contacted some type of emergency medical personnel. Some qualified medical person to start an evaluation of her before she ever leaves for Lordsburg.”

CBP said the area where Jakelin, her father and other migrants were detained for illegal entry is far away from quick access to emergency care.

“Due to the remoteness of the area, meeting emergency medical personnel in Lordsburg was the best means to provide the child with emergency care,” CBP said in a statement.

Before the bus even arrived in Lordsburg, border agents had called the station and asked for an emergency medical technician to be ready, the Department of Homeland Security said.

“Border Patrol Agents, including trained Emergency Medical Technicians did everything in their power to provide emergency medical assistance for Jakelin Caal Maquin immediately after her father notified the agents of her distress,” CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in a statement.

“Border Patrol Agents revived Jakelin twice before emergency responders arrived via air ambulance to continue medical care,” he said. “Emergency Medical professionals transported her by helicopter to the nearest children’s hospital.”

Unanswered questions

It’s been 11 days since Jakelin died, but her family still doesn’t know why.

Early indications from a hospital suggest Jakelin died from sepsis shock. But the local medical examiner has not determined the official cause of death, pending further studies.

Her family’s lawyers say it’s just one of the many unanswered questions in this unsettling case.

“Why wasn’t medical personnel present on site? What was the level of medical training of staff at the Port of Entry? What were the conditions of detention where Jakelin was kept for eight hours?” asked Lynn Coyle, one of the attorneys representing Jakelin’s family.

“These are all questions that we need answered with specificity.”

What’s going to happen to Jakelin’s body?

Jakelin’s body will be repatriated to Guatemala on Sunday, the country’s foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Her remains will be transferred from Guatemala City’s international airport to the remote indigenous community of Raxruha, where Jakelin was from, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra said.

A GoFundMe page authorized by the Guatemalan consulate has been set up to help Jakelin’s family, Guatemalan Consul Tekandi Paniagua said.

The funds will cover the family’s basic needs, including medical care for the girl’s three siblings and the construction of a bathroom and a kitchen in their home, said Priscila Villareal, a community organizer in Texas who created the page.

What will happen to Jakelin’s father?

Jakelin and her dad, Nery Gilberto Caal, fled extreme poverty for a chance of a better life, their family in Guatemala said.

According to CBP, the father and daughter crossed the border illegally about a half mile west of the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico.

The family’s attorneys said Caal and his daughter were seeking asylum in the United States.

“They quickly sought relief from the first Border Patrol agents they encountered near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry,” the attorneys said in a statement.

Many people wonder why asylum seekers cross illegally, rather than at a legal point of entry. But migrants are often at the mercy of wherever smugglers drop them off, which is often far from a legal point of entry.

And according to US law, even some who enter illegally can seek defensive asylum.

Jakelin’s dad has requested a credible fear interview — the first step in seeking asylum, Coyle said.

Historically, asylum seekers from Guatemala have low odds of gaining US asylum. In recent years, about 75% of Guatemalan applicants’ cases were rejected.