Marking the One-Year Anniversary of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin’s Death in Border Patrol Custody

A boy carries a picture of Jakelin Caal, a Guatemalan boy who died in a Texas hospital two days after being taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents, December 6, 2019.

This Sunday, December 8, marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin—at the time, the first child to die in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody in more than a decade. Jakelin, who was 7 years old, died two days after she was apprehended by Border Patrol agents in the New Mexico desert and detained with her father in a temporary CBP facility. According to Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), an emergency medical specialist with experience providing medical care during humanitarian crises, Jakelin failed to receive even the most basic medical screening that would have identified her illness. Because Jakelin’s family speaks Q’eqchi’, an indigenous language, CBP’s failure to provide adequate language access may have also contributed to her death.

At the time, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan knowingly withheld from Congress information about Jakelin’s death in advance of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a request for records filed by the Center for American Progress and Democracy Forward under the Freedom of Information Act in January 2019 remains unanswered to this day. Although the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and CBP Office of Professional Responsibility both opened investigations into her death, no reports have been released publicly.

Over the course of this past year, at least five additional children have died in, or shortly after being released from, immigration custody. Jakelin’s life was cut short as a result of the cruel and inhumane policies carried out daily along the border, all of which exacerbate the life-threatening conditions migrants face in traveling to the United States. The administration’s lack of oversight and disregard for human dignity is unacceptable. The United States must build an immigration system that protects the rights of all people, safeguards civil liberties, and upholds the rule of law.

For more on how to reframe the immigration debate, see CAP’s report: “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”