Who killed Jakelin?
The death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl after a lengthy journey with her father through Mexico to the U.S., then into the hands of the U.S. Border Patrol, has ignited a furious debate over who’s to blame.
On one side are President Trump’s most vehement opponents, who say Jakelin Caal’s blood is all over the hands of the administration, from Mr. Trump and his “cruel” policies at the top down to the agents who, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, refused the girl water for eight hours, sending her into what appears to be septic shock.
But the official accounts from Homeland Security Department officials and from agents say the girl — and the 162 other illegal immigrants she was caught with — did have access to water, food and bathrooms despite the remote location and overnight hours where they were caught.
They say the girl’s father, who had brought her on the treacherous 2,000-mile journey, sneaked into the U.S., got caught, then waited nearly eight hours before alerting agents that Jakelin was sick and vomiting.
At that point, there was little to do but treat her as best as possible — she was revived twice by agents trained in emergency medicine — and get her to a hospital, where she died after suffering a heart attack, liver failure and respiratory failure.
“For them to vilify us instead of putting the blame where it belongs, which is on the parent, that’s unconscionable,” Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council and an agent himself, told The Washington Times. “We’re now allowing the parents to get away with neglect, to get away with child endangerment.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t buying it. They say they believe agents were either neglectful or, worse, intentionally cruel.
They also are intent on elevating Jakelin to a martyr for their push for more lenient treatment of migrants arriving at the borders.
Hispanic Democrats have announced a visit Tuesday to Lordsburg, New Mexico, the Border Patrol station where Jakelin was brought by bus and where her father first alerted agents to her condition.
“We must understand what led to this child’s death and how these stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge at our borders,” the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in its announcement.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is also slated to be on Capitol Hill next week for an oversight hearing, and lawmakers vowed to make her explain what happened.
Some individual Democrats, though, have already reached conclusions.
Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, said her information was that the girl was denied water, contributing to the death.
“It’s heartbreaking and unacceptable that a 7-year-old girl died of dehydration and shock last week in Customs and Border Protection custody,” she said. “Reports indicate that she was not given water for the eight hours she was in custody before seizures started, even though she’d had nothing to drink for days.”
According to a timeline provided by authorities, the group of 163 was caught at 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry in remote New Mexico. The border crossing was closed for the night, but the Border Patrol maintains a forward operating base there and four agents spotted the migrants.
They screened the 163 people, including the 7-year-old girl and her father. Part of the screening is a list of about 20 questions asked of each migrant or, in the case of the family, the girl’s father.
“During the screening, the father denied that either he or his daughter were ill. This denial was recorded on Form I-779 signed by the father. At this time, they were offered water and food and had access to restrooms,” Homeland Security said in a lengthy statement detailing the incident.
That directly contradicts Ms. Feinstein’s assertion that water was withheld.
Once the migrants were screened, agents had to get them to the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, where they were to be booked and kept until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents could pick them up. Lordsburg is about two hours away, and the station had only one bus for the 163 migrants. It was dispatched at 10 p.m.
The first group to board was 50 unaccompanied alien children — minors traveling without parents — who under court orders are the Border Patrol’s highest priority for care, absent other circumstances. The bus trip can take hours along remote country roads.
During that time, the father and the girl were at a sally port at the border crossing, where they continued to have access to water and bathrooms, the government says. The father did not raise any alarm about the girl during that time either.
The bus returned to the border for the second group at 4 a.m. and was about to depart again at 5 a.m., with the father and girl in that group, when the father first advised agents that the girl was sick and vomiting.
“Out of an abundance of caution, agents immediately requested that an EMT meet the bus on arrival at the Lordsburg station,” Homeland Security says.
The bus arrived at the station just before 6:30 and “at that point the father notified agents that the child was not breathing.”
Border Patrol agents with EMT training revived the girl twice, officials said, and called local emergency services, who were on the scene at 6:40. The girl was taken by air ambulance to an El Paso hospital, where she went into cardiac arrest. She was revived but had brain swelling and liver failure and ended up on a breathing machine. She died early Dec. 8.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, said the death raised questions about the holding facilities Customs and Border Protection uses to detain people before they are turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for longer-term holding, tracking and deportation of illegal immigrants.
She bristled at Homeland Security officials’ stance that the child’s father, who brought her on the journey from Guatemala through Mexico, was to blame.
“This administration truly has no shame,” the congresswoman said.
Homeland Security’s inspector general said it has opened an investigation into the girl’s death, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s personnel office is examining whether procedures were followed.
But Homeland Security officials said the father had every opportunity to alert them, both during an initial 20-question screening each migrant is given when first apprehended or during the period when migrants were waiting for the bus to return, or again while the bus was taking them back.
“There were agents on the bus. The father could have brought this issue to their attention at any time,” said a border official briefing reporters. “There’s no indication it was lack of attention that resulted in this.”
He said the area is so remote that there are no faster means of medical treatment.
“It’s very unfortunate in our line of work, but sometimes aliens do die in the desert. Sometimes our agents get killed in this process,” he said. “It’s a difficult, dangerous environment, and the elements, the terrain itself make it all the more difficult.”