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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, chairman elect of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will lead a delegation of lawmakers to New Mexico today to investigate the circumstances of Jakelin Amel Rosmery Caal Maquin’s death.

The nine-year-old Guatemalan died while in the custody of Border Patrol. She and her father were with a large group of undocumented migrants when apprehended by Border Patrol near Antelope Wells, New Mexico, shortly after 9 p.m. on Dec. 6. According to her father, Caal began vomiting on a Border Patrol transit bus. Care was administered but her condition worsened. Her temperature reached 105 degrees while on the bus. She was later flown to a hospital in El Paso. Border Patrol said she died at about 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 8.

Jakelin Caal

“We can and must do better as a nation. A Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report found that the Trump Administration’s policy of limiting asylum seekers at ports of entry forces families to cross the border in between ports of entry, this includes making dangerous treks across the desert in search of safety, and a better life,” Castro said.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and we have a moral obligation to ensure these vulnerable families can safely seek asylum, which is legal under immigration and international law, at our borders.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro

Castro will take eight members of Congress and four members of Congress-elect to Border Patrol’s Lordsburg Station, New Mexico. In addition to Castro of San Antonio, Texas, the delegation will include four members of Congress from California: Congressman Raul Ruiz, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán, Congressman Lou Correa, and Congresswoman Norma Torres. Also on the trip are Congressman Adriano Espaillat of New York, Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, and Congressman Marc Veasey and Congressman Al Green, both of Texas.

Congresswoman-Elect Veronica Escobar, of El Paso, Texas, and Congresswoman-Elect Sylvia Garcia, of Houston, Texas, are also slated to be in the delegation, along with Congresswoman-Elect Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, and Congressman-Elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Illinois.

Following the tour of the facility, the members of Congress will brief the press on how these stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge on the southwest border of the United States.

The event will be livestreamed here.

Enrique Moreno, Elena Esparza, Lynn Coyle and Christopher Benoit are lawyers for the Caal family. They issued this statement: 

“The family is seeking an objective and thorough investigation and are asking that investigators will assess this incident within nationally recognized standards for the arrest and custody of children. The family intends to to assist in such an investigation into the cause and circumstances of Jakelin’s death.

“Prior to going into CBP custody and contrary to the report that Jakelin had ‘not eaten or had any water for several days’, Jakelin had not been crossing the desert for days. Jakelin’s father took care of Jakelin — made sure she was fed and had sufficient water.

“Premature and inaccurate statements undermine the integrity of the investigation.” 

Congressman Castro was one of a number of leading Democrats in the U.S. House to write a letter to John Kelly, acting inspector general, asking for a full investigation of Jakelin Caal’s death. 

Here is the letter:

December 14, 2018

Mr. John Kelly

Acting Inspector General

Office of Inspector General/MAIL STOP 0305

245 Murray Lane SW

Washington, D.C. 20528-0305

Dear Mr. Kelly:

We write to express our profound concern and sadness over the death of a 7-year-old girl in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody last week. This death raises significant questions about the conditions in CBP’s short-term holding facilities, and the general suitability of such facilities for families and children. We are also troubled by the fact that we learned of this incident from the Washington Post, rather than through congressional notification as required under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations laws. To address these and other concerns, we request that you open an investigation immediately.

According to information provided to Congress after the Washington Post report was already public, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended the 7-year-old girl around 10:00 pm on the evening of December 6, 2018. She was apprehended with a large group of migrants who turned themselves into Border Patrol custody. At 6:25 am the following morning, the 7-year-old girl began experiencing seizures and later died, according to an initial medical diagnosis obtained by CBP, of septic shock, fever, and dehydration. It is so far unclear whether the girl and accompanying migrants were provided any food or water during the 8.5 hour period in which she remained in Border Patrol custody.

Due to the seriousness of this tragedy and the many questions that remain, we request you initiate an investigation into this incident, as well as CBP policies or practices that may have contributed to the child’s death. The investigation should focus on policies and practices designed to protect health and safety, as well as policies and practices that may result in increased migration through particularly harsh terrain. For example, your office issued a report in September describing the impact of CBP’s policy of turning away asylum seekers.[1] That report concluded that the practice of turning away asylum seekers at international bridges and “limiting the volume of asylum-seekers entering at ports of entry” may have caused an increase in unauthorized crossing attempts.[2] One asylum seeker interviewed by the OIG stated that “she had been turned away three times by an officer on the bridge before deciding to take her chances on illegal entry.”[3] These facts are particularly troubling considering clear instructions from DHS Secretary Nielsen that asylum seekers should present themselves at ports of entry, instead of crossing between the ports.[4]

The investigation should also examine the appropriateness of holding children in Border Patrol stations, which were never designed to hold children. On Tuesday, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, testifying that the agency’s short-term holding cells are “incompatible” with increased migration of family units and unaccompanied children. The Commissioner added that “[o]ur Border Patrol stations were built decades ago to handle mostly male single adults in custody, not families and children.”[5] 

Finally, you should investigate CBP’s failure to timely notify Congress of this incident. It is hard to overstate our frustration with the fact that we learned of this incident through media reports one week after the incident occurred. It is clear that CBP failed to follow the reporting requirements laid out in last year’s omnibus appropriations bill until after the news of this death was already public. It is imperative that CBP, and DHS more generally, provide prompt notification to Congress when these types of incidents occur. DHS can and must do better.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  We look forward to your timely response and notification that an investigation has been opened.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler

Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary

Zoe Lofgren

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security

Pramila Jayapal

Member of Congress

Joaquin Castro

Chairman Elect

Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Lucille Roybal-Allard

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Homeland Security

CC:

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte, Chairman, House Judiciary Committee

The Honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen. Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The Honorable Kevin K. McAleenan, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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1 COMMENT

  1. Joaquin and his amigos can shout, scream, jump up and down, tear their hair and rend their garments. Their theatrics are not going to matter. We do not know what happened. We won’t know what happened until the autopsy results are released.