Family of seven-year-old girl who died in US custody says all she wanted to do was ‘send money back home’
Claudia Maquin says “extreme poverty” made her husband and daughter leave for the US. (AP: Oliver de Ros)
Relatives of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in US border agent custody say she was inseparable from her father and that she looked forward to sending money back home.
- Jakelin Caal was apprehended in New Mexico on December 6
- She developed a high fever in US custody and died two days later
- Her family says she didn’t show any signs of distress when detained
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 December 6.
Jakelin developed a high fever while in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection and died two days later at a hospital in El Paso, Texas.
“The girl said when she was grown up she was going to work and send dough back to her Mum and Grandma,” said her mother Claudia Maquin, who has three remaining children, speaking via translators in the Mayan language Q’eqchi.
“Because she’d never seen a big country, she was really happy that she was going to go,” she added, explaining how her husband had gone to America to find a way out of the “extreme poverty” that dictated their lives.
Deforestation driving people from Guatemala
Significant deforestation between Mexico and Guatemala has made life harder for subsistence farmers. (UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Geneva: Pascal Peduzzi)
Deforestation to make way for palm-oil plantations has made subsistence farming increasingly hard for the 40,000 inhabitants of the Raxruha municipality, where the family’s agricultural hamlet of San Antonio de Cortez lies in central Guatemala, local officials said.
Setting out on December 1, Mr Caal and his daughter travelled more than 3,220 kilometres so Jakelin’s father could look for work in the US, said her mother, who learned of the girl’s death from consular officials.
Almost 80 per cent of Guatemala’s indigenous population are poor, with half of those living in extreme poverty.
The mayor of San Antonio de Cortez described the Caal family as among the worst-off in the village.
Mayor Cesar Castro said in recent months more and more families were trying to emigrate to the United States, often selling what little land they owned to pay people traffickers thousands of dollars for the trip.
“It’s not just the Caal family. There are endless people who are leaving,” Mr Castro said. “I see them drive past in pickups, cars and buses.”
He said most of them came back in the end, often penniless after being dropped off by traffickers, caught by authorities and deported.
Father says she was not distressed when detained
Jakelin’s death has added to criticism of President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies from migrant advocates and Democrats in Congress.
His 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.
The father, speaking through a representative in Texas, agreed with that account, saying the girl exhibited no sign of distress at the border.
The family, in a statement issued by their attorneys in El Paso, disputed as erroneous media reports that the girl had gone for days without food or water or became severely dehydrated.
The news of Jakelin’s death has shaken her tight-knit family in Guatemala. (AP: Oliver de Ros)
Numbers keep rising despite harsh policies
Record numbers of parents traveling with children are being apprehended trying to cross the US border with Mexico, in spite of America’s “Prevention through Deterrence” policy that deliberately pushes migrants into hostile border environments.
In November, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers detained 25,172 members of “family units,” the highest monthly number ever recorded, the agency said.
Parents with children are more likely to be released by US authorities while their cases are processed because of legal restrictions on keeping children in detention.
Mr Caal remains in the El Paso area, where his daughter died after being flown by helicopter to a hospital there for emergency treatment when she stopped breathing.
A brain scan revealed swelling and Jakelin was diagnosed with liver failure.
She died early in the morning of December 8, with her father at the hospital, a CBP official said.
US authorities are investigating the death.