Guatemalan girl was ‘healthy’ before death at border

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A picture of Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. custody after crossing illegally from Mexico to the U.S., is seen during a protest held to demand justice for her in El Paso, U.S. December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

EL PASO (Reuters) – A young Guatemalan girl who died after she and her father were detained by US border agents was in no medical distress when they arrived and had received adequate food and water on their journey, relatives said on Saturday through representatives in Texas.

A statement from the family of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, released to reporters in El Paso, Texas, by the head of a migrants shelter where her father was staying, disputed media reports that the girl had gone days without food or water and become dehydrated while traveling from Guatemala through Mexico to the US border.

News of the child’s death, and suggestions that border officials ignored or overlooked a medical crisis, added to criticism from migrant advocates and congressional Democrats of President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies.

Ruben Garcia, director of the Annunciation House shelter, said the girl’s father, Nery Caal, 29, told him he had no inkling his daughter was ill when they arrived by bus with dozens of other migrants at the US border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the night of Dec. 6.

Mr Garcia also said the father agreed with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) account of the father and daughter’s brief detention, including CBP’s assertion there was no indication that the girl had been suffering from any medical problem until several hours after their arrival.

According to CBP’s account, the girl and her father had access to water and restrooms during the seven hours they waited to board a CBP bus that would take them early on Dec. 7 from Antelope Wells to another Border Patrol station at Lordsburg, about 153 km away.

The CBP said Nery Caal told agents just before their bus departed that his daughter was vomiting, and by the time they arrived 90 minutes later she had stopped breathing.

She was treated in Lordsburg by emergency personnel, then rushed to an El Paso hospital, where she died the next morning, Dec. 8, after doctors found she was suffering brain swelling and liver failure.

The family called for “an objective and thorough investigation … within nationally recognised standards for the arrest and custody of children.”

The El Paso County medical examiner has conducted an autopsy but the results will not be made available for up to two weeks.

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