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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Family of dead Guatemalan migrant girl denies she was starved

Jakelin Caal's parents issue first statement since her death in US Border Patrol custody

Ruben Garcia, director of an immigrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, speaks to reporters beside a photo of Jakelin Caal on December 15, 2018. The El Paso Times via AP
Ruben Garcia, director of an immigrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, speaks to reporters beside a photo of Jakelin Caal on December 15, 2018. The El Paso Times via AP

The family of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in US Border Patrol custody has disputed claims that she had gone without food or water for days before she entered the United States with her father.

In a statement released by lawyers, the parents of Jakelin Caal said the girl had been given food and water and appeared to be in good health as she travelled through Mexico with her father, Nery Gilberto Caal, 29.

Tekandi Paniagua, the Guatemalan consul in Del Rio, Texas, told The Associated Press that Jakelin's father had told him the group they were travelling with was dropped off in Mexico about a 90-minute walk from the border.

The family's statement was released on Saturday during a news conference at an immigrant shelter in El Paso, Texas where Jakelin's father is staying. Her parents did not attend.

Jakelin and her father were seeking asylum in the US and were among a large group of migrants arrested on December 6 near a remote border crossing in New Mexico. Hours later they were placed on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol station, but Jakelin began vomiting and eventually stopped breathing. She died later at a Texas hospital.

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The Border Patrol has said its agents did everything they could to save the girl but that she had not had food or water for days. They said an initial screening showed no evidence of health problems, and that her father had signed a form indicating she was in good health.

But the family took issue with that form, which was in English, a language Mr Caal does not speak or read. He spoke to border agents in Spanish but his native tongue is the Mayan Q'eqchi' language.

"It is unacceptable for any government agency to have persons in custody sign documents in a language that they clearly do not understand," the family's statement said.

Jakelin's family urged authorities to conduct an "objective and thorough" investigation into the death and to determine whether officials met standards for the arrest and custody of children.

A cause of death has not yet been released. A private prayer service was held in Texas on Friday so her father could see Jakelin's body before it is taken to Guatemala, said Ruben Garcia, director of the immigrant shelter where Mr Caal is staying.

Family members in Guatemala said Mr Caal decided to migrate with his favourite child to earn money he could send back home. Jakelin's mother and three siblings remained in San Antonio Secortez, a village of about 420 people.

Updated: December 16, 2018 03:50 PM

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