The body of immigrant girl Jakelin Caal has arrived in Guatemala more than two weeks after she died while in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol.
Caal was with her father as they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico on December 6. The family was part of a group of more than 100 migrants who crossed the border and surrendered to Border Patrol agents to seek asylum in the United States, but Caal fell ill within hours of being taken into custody and died on December 8 after being taken to a hospital. As USA Today noted, her body has now arrived back in Guatemala to be laid to rest.
The small white coffin holding the girl's body arrived in Guatemala City's international airport and was received by members of the country's foreign ministry. No family members could be at the airport to receive the girl's body, as the girl's father said they were too poor to travel from the rural hamlet where they live together.
The girls' death has generated considerable controversy. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has offered differing explanations on how the girl died, initially saying that she had no food or water for several days by the time she and her father arrived in the United States. That was disputed by the girl's father and by a medical report that noted she died of sepsis.
As PBS noted, there has been much scrutiny on the 90 minutes the girl spent between being picked up by Border Patrol agents and when she was first administered medical attention, which only came after a long bus journey from the remote part of the state where she and her father were apprehended to the nearest Border Patrol outpost.Critics have said that the girl's death was preventable. The girl's father, who speaks an indigenous language, reportedly did not understand the forms he was given when he claimed that his daughter was in good health. The agency has also come under for relying on his account of the girl's health and not putting her through a more rigorous medical testing to determine whether she was in good enough health to complete the journey to the outpost.
The agency was also under fire for failing to report the girl's death. The commissioner of the Border Patrol agency testified before the U.S. Senate just days after her death but made no mention of it.