Father Of Guatemalan Girl Who Died In Border Patrol Custody Disputes Agency’s Account Of Her Death

Border Patrol agents at the U.S. border
Mario Tama / Getty Images

The father of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died while in Border Patrol custody is disputing the agency’s account that she died of dehydration after not eating or drinking anything for several days.

This week, reports emerged about the death of Jakelin Maquin, who died hours after being taken into Border Patrol custody on December 6. The young girl and her parents were with a group of more than 100 immigrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico and were taken into custody by agents. During the 90 minute bus ride from the desolate part of the state where they were picked up to a Border Patrol outpost, the girl fell seriously ill. But as the New York Times reports, exactly what happened remains in question.

Border Patrol had initially said that the young girl had nothing to eat or drink for several days while her family was making the journey to the U.S. border, saying she suddenly spiked a fever and stopped breathing during the bus ride.

The girl’s father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cruz, disputed this account and said that the family “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water” during the journey. Lawyers representing the family said they are seeking an investigation into her death, and noted that the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office has not released a cause of death after performing an autopsy.

As the New York Times noted, the differing accounts of the girl’s death highlight growing criticism of how the Trump administration approaches immigration.

“The dispute reflects a ratcheting tension over the girl’s death. Immigration activists say the expansion of the Border Patrol under President Trump is pushing immigrants into more remote territory, making crossing far more perilous,” the report noted. “At least 412 migrants were found dead along the Southwest border in 2017, up from 398 the previous year.”

The Trump administration is also being criticized for a response to the immigrant girl’s death that has been called callous. On Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed blame back on the family for bringing the girl with them on the journey to the United States.

“This family chose to cross illegally. What happened here was that they were about 90 miles away from where we could process them,” Nielsen said, via the Daily Mail. “It’s heart-wrenching, is what it is. And my heart goes out to the family. All of DHS. You know this is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey.”