When a migrant girl who died in Border Patrol custody suddenly became ill, agents did not have sufficient medical resources to immediately treat her, officials said Friday.
Jakelin Caal, 7, of Guatemala died last Friday in a U.S. hospital after crossing the border with a group of migrants, the Department of Homeland Security said Friday. Caal’s death garnered a national outcry over the treatment of migrants at the border and a flurry of questions about how she was treated by Border Patrol agents.
According to a DHS incident report shared by an official, Caal and her father were taken into custody around 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 6 along with other 163 migrants who were approaching border agents to turn themselves in. The group was taken to a forward operating base where a spokesperson said their vital signs were checked. The report said there was “no evidence of health issues” at first.
“During the screening, the father denied that either he or his daughter were ill,” the report said, noting he signed a form that said she was not sick. “At this time, they were offered water and food and had access to restrooms.”
DHS said it is not known if she consumed water or food at the facility. A spokesperson said it was reported she had not had either for several days before arriving in the United States.
Early the next morning, Border Patrol arranged to transfer migrants from the two small holding facilities to a larger station in Lordsburg, Texas. Agents began transporting the migrants to Lordsburg in separate groups on a bus, about 50 people at a time.
At around 5 a.m., Caal and her father got on the bus to Lordsburg, when her father told agents “his child had become sick and was vomiting,” the DHS report said. Border agents immediately called for emergency responders in Lordsburg to meet Caal when they arrived. A spokesperson said there was a “lack of medical resources” at the facility to treat Caal before she got on the bus.
DHS clarified an earlier statement that said Caal and her father had been separated, saying they were together for virtually their entire time in detention.
By 6:25 a.m., Caal began having seizures and her father said she was not breathing. Border Patrol emergency medical technicians at Lordsburg “revived the child twice” and recorded a 105.9-degree fever.
Fifteen minutes later, Caal was taken by helicopter to Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso where she was revived again before going into cardiac arrest, a DHS spokesperson said. Her father was transported to the hospital and was with her when she died.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child. Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances,” a DHS spokesperson said. “As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”
DHS said the hospital indicated Caal died of sepsis shock. The El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office said it performed an autopsy on Caal on Friday but could not release more information until an autopsy report is complete, which usually takes six to eight weeks.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen expressed sympathy for the girl’s death, but faulted her family for entering the U.S. without legal authorization.
“This family chose to cross illegally,” Nielsen told Fox & Friends on Friday morning. “We gave immediate care, we’ll continue to look into this situation. But again I cannot stress [enough] how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally.”
That belies the fact that many migrants do attempt to cross legally at ports of entry only to be turned away by officials who say there is “no room” at holding facilities. For months this summer, DHS officials denied such reports, only to admit in a September Office of the Inspector General report that turning asylum-seekers away was an official policy called “metering.”
On Friday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general announced it would investigate investigate the circumstances surrounding Caal’s death and subsequently release a report.
Congressional Democrats said they will seek answers from administration officials, while former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declared, “what’s happening at our borders is a humanitarian crisis.”
Caa’s death comes months after a six-week-old toddler died after being released from an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas, about eight hours away. According to CNN, the toddler's mother and attorneys alleged she contracted a “respiratory infection” after she arrived at the detention center, and ICE provided minimal medical care.