EL PASO — The 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died after being taken into Border Patrol custody had not been crossing the desert for days, and her father made sure she was “fed and had sufficient water,” according a statement released Saturday by her family.
The statement read by Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, the migrant shelter in El Paso where the girl’s father is staying, is the family’s first public comment locally since Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death. Garcia said her family is still coping with their “profound loss.”
Garcia said her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, was not up to speaking at the press briefing, so Garcia read a statement by the girl’s family prepared by attorneys helping them in the aftermath of the girl’s death.
“Jakelin’s father is grateful for the many first responders that tried to save young Jakelin’s life in New Mexico and Texas,” read Garcia. But he added that the family issued the statement to “clarify some key points.”
Jakelin’s father disputes claims by some U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials that his daughter had “not eaten or had any water for several days” before they turned themselves into Border Patrol agents asking for asylum Dec. 6.
“She had not suffered from a lack of water or food prior to approaching the border,” read Garcia.
Border Patrol officials were not immediately available to comment.
The 29-year-old father and his daughter were with a group of 163 migrants who crossed the border near Antelope Wells in New Mexico’s bootheel. During a conference call Friday with media about the circumstances of the child’s death, CBP officials said the group of migrants in custody, including the girl and her father, had access to water, food and restrooms.
Caal Cuz notified agents his daughter was sick and had been vomiting shortly before the bus departed at 5 a.m., according to CBP. An hour and a half later, when the bus arrived at the Border Patrol’s small operating station in Lordsburg, the child had stopped breathing.
In Lordsburg, Border Patrol agents revived Jakelin twice and Hidalgo Medical Services arrived to provide care before the girl was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso. She died less than 24 hours later.
In their statement, the girl’s family pointed out the cause of death has not been determined and the hospital has not released medical records to her father. The El Paso County Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, but a final report will not be ready for weeks.
Caal Cuz signed forms provided by Border Patrol agents when he and his daughter were taken into custody agreeing that they did not have any medical needs or health problems, according to CBP officials. The paperwork is in English, but Border Patrol agents speak Spanish and translated, according to CBP.
“Jakelin and her father speak Q’eqchi’,” an indigenous dialect, and Spanish is their second language, according to their statement.
Jakelin turned 7 on Dec. 3. Her body will be flown back to the village of Raxruha in Guatemala for burial. Her father, an evangelical Christian, was able to see her one last time at a prayer vigil.
“He has a profound, profound faith,” said Garcia, who was present at the vigil.