US: Girl who died in custody was in good health

Guatemalan girl had gone without food, water for days

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. immigration officials on Friday defended their actions in the detention of a 7-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, identified by a Guatemalan official as Jackeline Caal, 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.

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, Texas, where she was found to have swelling in her brain and liver failure, officials said. She later died.

The agents speak Spanish, but the father and daughter were from an area in northern Guatemala called Raxruha in Alta Verapaz and may have spoken a Mayan dialect, not Spanish.

An autopsy was scheduled to determine the girl’s death. The results could take weeks.

“The agents involved are deeply affected and empathize with the father over the loss of his daughter,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.

“We cannot stress enough the dangers posed by traveling long distances, in crowded transportation, or in the natural elements through remote desert areas without food, water and other supplies.”