US Politics

Jakelin Caal: Family of seven-year-old who died in US custody speaks out

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A seven-year-old Guatemalan girl died while in the custody of US Border Patrol officers who say she had not been fed or been given water for days.

The family of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in US Border Patrol custody is disputing an account from officials who say she had not been given food or water for days.

In a statement released by lawyers, the parents of Jakelin Caal said the girl had been given food and water and appeared to be in good health as she travelled through Mexico with her father, 29-year-old Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz.

Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal and her father were seeking asylum in the US.
Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal and her father were seeking asylum in the US.
SBS News

Border Patrol officials did not immediately respond to the family's comments.

The family's statement was released on Saturday during a news conference in El Paso, Texas, at an immigrant shelter where Jakelin's father is staying. Her family did not attend and has asked for privacy.

Jakelin and her father were seeking asylum in the US and were among a large group of migrants arrested on December 6 near a remote border crossing in New Mexico.

Hours later they were placed on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol station, but Jakelin began vomiting and eventually stopped breathing. She later died at a Texas hospital.

Border Patrol officials on Friday said agents did everything they could to save the girl but that she had not had food or water for days. They added that an initial screening showed no evidence of health problems, and that her father had signed a form indicating she was in good health.

But the family took issue with that form, which was in English, a language her father doesn't speak or read. He communicated with border agents in Spanish but he primarily speaks the Mayan Q'eqchi' language.

"It is unacceptable for any government agency to have persons in custody sign documents in a language that they clearly do not understand," the statement said.

Jakelin's family is urging authorities to conduct an "objective and thorough" investigation into the death and to determine whether officials met standards for the arrest and custody of children.

Family members in Guatemala said Caal decided to migrate with his favourite child to earn money he could send back home. Jakelin's mother and three siblings remained in San Antonio Secortez, a village of about 420 inhabitants.

Members of the Caal Maquin family and neighbours stand in front of Claudia Maquin's house in Raxruha, Guatemala.
Members of the Caal Maquin family and neighbours stand in front of Claudia Maquin's house in Raxruha, Guatemala.
AAP

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