When Jakelin Caal Maquin celebrated her birthday on Dec. 3, the was no birthday cake. She was in a caravan of more than a hundred refugees making a two-thousand-mile-long trek into American soil, and, according to U.S. Border Patrol, she hadn’t eaten in days.
There was a present waiting for her, though: a one-way trip across that would take her illegally the border into America, where, according to her father, they were going to apply for asylum. It was a prospect that her grandfather says thrilled her, telling CNN that she “would jump in happiness that she would get to go to the United States.”
Jakelin, however, would barely get as much as a glance of life on the other side of the border. Shortly after she crossed, she and her father were detained by U.S. Border Patrol and, while under their custody, Jakelin died.
The death of Jakelin Caal Maquin
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Jakelin hadn’t been able to consume food or water for days when they found her at the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico on Dec. 6.
She and her father weren’t alone when they were apprehended by Border Patrol. They were part of a massive, 163-person group being detained by just three Border Patrol agents. Unable to provide space for that many people, the agents had to have buses brought in to send them off to the nearest Border Patrol Station in Lordsburg.
But it was on that bus that Jakelin fell into the seizure that killed her. By the time she and her father boarded at 5:00 a.m., she had already become violently ill. She was vomiting, her father, Nery Gilberto Caal, told the Border Patrol agents, and she needed help.
Still, she didn’t receive medical care for another hour and a half. The agents kept her in the bus, having her make the 90-minute long drive to Lordsburg, where they ensured an emergency medical team would be ready and waiting for her.
The bus didn’t make it to Lordsburg in time. By 6:30 a.m, when they arrived, she’d had a seizure and had completely stopped breathing.
EMTs in Lordsburg were able to revive her twice and had her rushed by helicopter to Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, Texas, but it wasn’t enough to save her. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, they lost her just a little after midnight.
Her death, according to the hospital, was the result of septic shock, fever, and dehydration.
Her father was by her side when she died. It was 12:35 a.m on Dec. 8th. She had been seven-years-old for five days.
The debate over who to blame
Both sides of the political aisle have been arguing over who to blame from the moment Jakelin’s death was announced to the world. The Border Patrol killed her through negligence, figures on the left have said, while those on the right have pointed their fingers at her father.
The first report came out on Dec. 13, five days after she died, when the Washington Post broke the news.
Already, even in that first report, organizations were scrambling for a place to lay the blame. The American Civil Liberties Union, in the very first article on the tragedy, were already quoted blaming her death on the “culture of cruelty with CBP” and calling for “a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths.”
Politicians followed suit in the immediate aftermath, taking to Twitter and press conferences to politicize her death:
Why did the Commissioner of Customs & Border Protection keep this little girl’s death secret until after he testified before me & Senate Judiciary Committee this week? I will be demanding answers.
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) December 14, 2018
One reporter, during a White House press conference, even told White House spokesman Hogan Gidley that President Trump’s administration was responsible for Jakelin’s death.
Gidley, in response, pointed the blame directly at the girl’s father, saying:
Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.
And others have followed Gidley, like him pointing blame at the father. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed his message during an interview on Fox & Friends, telling the show:
“This family chose to cross illegally… I cannot stress how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally.”
Why did Jakelin die?
Jakelin’s father, for his part, has said, in an official statement, that he is “grateful for the many first responders that tried to save young Jakelin’s life in New Mexico and Texas.”
He has, however, called parts of the official story into dispute. Jakelin, he has said through a lawyer, he “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water.”
He has also said that, rather than being apprehended by border guards, he willingly sought asylum as soon as he’d crossed the border.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, likewise, have rejected the accusations that frame the blame against them. They’ve insisted that they provided the immigrant group with food, water, and access to a restroom as soon as they found them.
They’ve also said that, immediately after detaining the group of refugees, they asked if anyone had a medical condition so that they could get proper care. Jakelin’s father, they say, signed a form saying that he and his daughter were both in good health.
Jakelin’s father, speaking through his attorney, has not denied signing the form. That form, however, was written in English and verbally translated to him into Spanish, which is his second language. His first language, he says, is Q’eqchi.
An autopsy is underway to find out why Jakelin died, and the Department of Homeland Security has launched an internal investigation into her death. The results, Homeland Security says, will be shared publicly once they are ready.
In the meantime, Jakeline’s family attorney has said: “We would ask the media and federal agencies cease further speculation about her cause of death until [the autopsy] documents are released to Jakelin’s family.”
More to the story
KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about this story and the political reaction that followed on the air. “Any time a politician politicizes a tragedy,” Dave Noriega said, “it makes my stomach churn.”
If you missed the show, you can still hear everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.
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