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7-year-old Guatemalan girl dies after U.S. Border Patrol arrest

7-year-old Guatemalan girl dies after U.S. Border Patrol arrest

U.S. immigration officials on Friday defended their actions in the detention of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who died two days after she and her father were taken into custody along a remote stretch of the U.S. border.
The girl had gone days without food and water, a Department of Homeland Security statement said. Yet immigration officials said she did not appear to be ill when detained on Dec. 6.
A Border Patrol form completed shortly after she was stopped said she was not sweating, had no tremors or visible trauma and was mentally alert. “Claims good health,” the form reads. Jackeline’s father appeared to have signed the form, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
But, hours later, after Jackeline was placed on a bus, she started vomiting. She was not breathing when she arrived at a border patrol station. Emergency medical technicians revived her and she was flown to a hospital in El Paso, where she was found to have swelling in her brain and liver failure, officials said. She later died.
An autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of the girl’s death. The results could take weeks.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Friday its internal watchdog will investigate Caal’s death.
The Office of the Inspector General, which looks into accusations of misconduct by public employees, will take the
lead on the case. It said it would share the results of its investigation with the government, Congress and the public.
The girl’s identity was provided to AP by an official with Guatemala’s foreign ministry, who said her father was 29-year-old Nery Caal. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to share information.
Caal was driven to El Paso and was at the hospital when the girl died, officials said. He is not detained.
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley called Jackeline’s death “a horrific, tragic situation” and called for “common-sense laws to disincentivize people from coming up from the border,” crossing illegally.
Guatemalan consular officials said they have spoken with the father, who was deeply upset.
Processing 163 immigrants in one night could have posed challenges for the agency, whose detention facilities are meant to be temporary and don’t usually fit that many people.
When a Border Patrol agent arrests someone, that person gets processed at a facility but usually spends no more than 72 hours in custody before being transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, if they’re Mexican, quickly deported home.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News that Jackeline’s death was heart-wrenching and a sad example of the dangers of crossing the border. She said the girl’s group was 145 kilometres from where it could be processed and a few trips were needed to get such a large group over to processing.
“This family chose to cross illegally,” Nielsen said. “We’ll continue to look into the situation, but, again, I cannot stress enough how dangerous this journey [is] when migrants choose to come here illegally.”
The girl’s death raises questions about whether border agents knew she was ill and whether she was fed anything or given anything to drink during the eight-plus hours she was in custody.
Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York said on Twitter that “we will be demanding immediate answers to this tragedy” when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appears next week before the House’s judiciary committee.
Immigrants, lawyers and activists have long raised issues with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, an ongoing lawsuit claims holding cells are filthy, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities such as blankets. A judge overseeing that lawsuit has ordered the agency’s Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to provide blankets and mats to sleep on and continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.
The Border Patrol has seen an increasing trend of large groups of immigrants, many with young children, walking up to agents and turning themselves in. Most are Central American and say they are fleeing violence. They turn themselves in instead of trying to circumvent authorities, many with plans to apply for asylum.