The Slatest

Family of 7-Year-Old Girl Who Died in Border Patrol Custody Denies She Went Days Without Food, Water

Claudia Maquin holds her 6-month-old daughter Angela, with her children Abdel and Elvis standing beside her.
Claudia Maquin, 27, holds her 6-month-old daughter Angela next to her children Abdel (left), 9, and Elvis, 5, at her house in San Antonio Seacortez village, Guatemala, on Dec. 15.
Johan Ordonez/Getty Images

The family of Jakelin Caal Maquin, the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died while in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, is speaking out and is disputing the official account of her death, denying claims that she went days without food or water. The family issued a statement through attorneys Saturday that called for an “objective and thorough” investigation into her death. In the statement the family insists that despite the reports, “Jakelin had not been crossing the desert for days.” Her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water” and sought asylum as soon as they crossed the border. Jakelin, the family says, “had not suffered from a lack of water or food prior to approaching the border.”

“Jakelin and her father came to the United States seeking something that thousands have been seeking for years: An escape from the dangerous situation in their home country,” the statement reads. “This was their right under U.S. and international law.” Jakelin’s death has sparked outrage ever since it became public Thursday, five days after she died.

“There are no words to capture the horror of a seven-year-old girl dying of dehydration in U.S. custody,” Hillary Clinton tweeted Friday. “What’s happening at our borders is a humanitarian crisis.”

Border Patrol officials said they did everything in their power to save Jakelin, but she had not had food or water for days and an initial health screening that her father signed showed no signs of health problems. But the family also criticized the use of an English-language form when Jakelin’s father only speaks Spanish and 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,” notes the statement. A cause of death has yet to be determined and the family has refused to speculate.

Members of Jakelin’s family spoke to repoters from Guatemala and said the 7-year-old was excited about accompanying her father to the United States. “Because she’d never seen a big country, she was really happy that she was going to go,” her mother, Claudia Maquin, said. Her husband went to the United States to try to find a way out of the “extreme poverty” that had come to dictate their lives. “He was desperate,” Domingo Caal, Jakelin’s grandfather, said. Senior Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security demanding an immediate investigation into Jakelin’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,” the letter said.