Editor's note 12/14/18: This story has been updated to reflect additional information from the Department of Homeland Security.
Around 9:15 on the cool night of Dec. 6, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl and her father, along with a group of about 160 migrants, turned themselves in to United States agents in the New Mexico desert after illegally crossing the border.
Twenty-four hours later, the girl was dead.
Agents brought the group to the nearby Antelope Wells Port of Entry — one of the smallest and most remote in the country — where four border agents initially screened them to identify any immediate health or safety problems. The agents also gave the adults forms, written in English but verbally translated, to fill out. On the form, the father said that his daughter, named Jakelin Caal Maquin, had no health problems. DHS said that her father also said she hadn’t been able to consume water or food for days, but it isn’t clear when border agents learned that information.
Around 10 p.m., the first group of migrants, which included unaccompanied minors, were loaded onto a bus destined for Lordsburg, New Mexico, a border patrol station about 95 miles away from Antelope Wells.
Agents notified the Lordsburg station to prepare to receive a sick child. Because of the remoteness of the Antelope Wells area, Customs and Border Protections said, meeting emergency medical personnel in Lordsburg was the best option.
For the next six hours, Jakelin and her father waited with the second group at Antelope Wells, where they were reportedly given access to water and restrooms. At 4:30 a.m., the second group — Jakelin and her father included — were loaded onto the bus. Prior to departure, the father told agents that his daughter had gotten sick and started to vomit on the bus.
Agents notified the Lordsburg station to prepare to receive a sick child. But by the time they arrived at the Lordsburg station two hours later, the girl wasn’t breathing, had a fever of 105.9 degrees Fahrenheit, and was having seizures.
"As we have always said, traveling north illegally is extremely dangerous."
Emergency medics were able to revive Jakelin at 7 a.m. local time, and at 7:45 a.m., she was airlifted to a children’s hospital in El Paso, Texas. Border Patrol agents transported her father to the hospital in a government vehicle. Doctors discovered she was experiencing brain swelling and had to be put on a ventilator. Soon after, Jakelin was diagnosed with liver failure and later died at 12:35 p.m. local time with her father present.
In a statement, DHS said that the cause of death was sepsis and shock.
“As we have always said, traveling north illegally is extremely dangerous,” DHS said in a statement. “Border Patrol always takes care of individuals in their custody and does everything in their power to keep them safe.”
Homeland Security’s Inspector General has taken over the investigation from Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility. An autopsy is expected, and the results might not be available for several weeks, a DHS spokesperson said. According to records obtained by the Washington Post, Jakelin had not eaten for several days and died of dehydration and shock.
“Border Patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances,” DHS said in a statement. “Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro, released a statement earlier calling on the inspector general to conduct a “full investigation into the conditions and circumstances that led to her death.”
“We can and must do better as a nation,” Castro said in the statement and linked to a scathing report by DHS’ inspector general that found the Trump administration's policy of limiting asylum seekers at ports of entry has forced migrants to cross the border elsewhere, which has meant “making dangerous treks across the desert in search of safety, and a better life,” he said.
Civil rights groups have repeatedly accused the Trump administration of providing substandard medical care to immigrants in detention. Last month, a mother whose toddler died after getting sick in ICE custody filed a $60 million wrongful death suit.
Cover image: In this photo taken Feb. 21, 2013, a Normandy-style vehicle barrier is seen on the border of Mexico, left, and the United States in Lordsburg, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Shari V. Hill)