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Father Of Dead Migrant Says Border Patrol's 'Best Efforts' Couldn't Save Her


A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl named Jakelin Caal Maquin died after being held in Customs and Border Protection custody earlier this month. She'd been taken into custody after she and her father and a large group of migrants had turned themselves over to the Border Patrol in the desert of New Mexico.

Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe spoke with the West Texas Guatemalan consul general about this tragedy. Monica, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: What did the consul general know about this father and daughter and how she died?

URIBE: The Guatemalan Consul General Tekandi Paniagua, he's in Del Rio, Texas. And, yeah, he represents the western part of the state, including El Paso. He says Jakelin and her father are from a rural farming community in an indigenous part of northern Guatemala. Her mom and three siblings still live there. Jakelin's father speaks some Spanish, but he's most comfortable speaking K'iche', which is his indigenous dialect. The consul has talked with Jakelin's dad over the phone, and he's now visiting with him in El Paso.

When we spoke, he hadn't yet asked why they'd come to the U.S., but he did ask Jakelin's dad about when - after - when they were detained. And he says Jakelin didn't become seriously ill until a few hours after Border Patrol apprehended them. She began vomiting and lost consciousness at one point. And while in custody, the migrants did have access to water and restrooms.

Jakelin's dad told the consul that he had no complaints against the Border Patrol or the medical staff who cared for his daughter. According to authorities, she suffered from a heart attack and liver failure while in the hospital, but an autopsy and an official cause of death are still pending.

SIMON: Was the consul - was the consul satisfied?

URIBE: Yes. He said that his interactions with American authorities thus far have also been positive.

SIMON: And how is the Border Patrol responding?

URIBE: Well, what's most unsettling about this case is the fact that the Department of Homeland Security didn't report this death until a week after it happened, and only after a couple of reporters pressed them for answers. DHS is required by law to report such deaths to Congress. And it - Congress learned about this thanks to two reporters writing for The Washington Post. And now congressional leaders - they're demanding an investigation, which will likely happen through the Office of Inspector General.

Border Patrol officials say they don't always release certain information out of privacy concerns and that they're currently reviewing their disclosure policies. They did, however, report this case to the Guatemalan Consulate in Phoenix when Jakelin was first hospitalized.

The Border Patrol says their medics cared for her until the hospital helicopter arrived. And their officers do do thousands of rescues each year due to the harsh conditions that migrants are exposed to. As asylum-seekers are being turned away at the official ports of entry, it's more likely that large groups will try to enter the U.S. from more remote areas like this one in New Mexico.

SIMON: Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe in El Paso. Thanks so much for being with us.

URIBE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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