Imagine being a small child, being led on an intercontinental death march by your parents. As they drag you through a final desert, your body begins to fail. You can’t remember the last time you had even a sip of water. You’re told that this is a march to freedom, this is how you will reach the Promised Land. Then, as your parents are taken into custody by law enforcement for committing a crime in a foreign land, you collapse one last time. Despite the best efforts of the men and women who come to your aid, your tiny body gives out. You die a confused and starving child in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers, all because of the negligence and criminal actions of the people who should have been caring for you the most: your parents. Now imagine, that the world is told that your parents were the victims and that you were all but tortured to death by the people who tried to save you.
On December 8th, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin died from exhaustion and dehydration less than a week after her seventh birthday. A Guatemalan citizen, she had been dragged over 2,000 miles from South America, through Mexico, and into the harsh desert wastelands of New Mexico by her father, Nery Gilberto Caal. Part of a group of 163 people illegally entering the United States, they were caught by U.S. Border Patrol on the night of December 6th. Rescued from an almost certain death by border patrol agents, Jakelin was one of fifty children in the group. When screening everyone for medical attention, Jakelin’s father told them she was fine, that she needed no treatment.
The following morning, her father told border patrol agents that his daughter was sick and vomiting. As they were being moved to a Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, New Mexico, the station was called and told to have emergency medical technicians ready for their arrival. As the bus arrived, her father said she had stopped breathing. An ambulance was called as the EMT treated her; her temperature was reportedly over 105 degrees and she had to be revived twice. Rather than relying on a four-hour trip to the El Paso hospital, border patrol personnel called for a helicopter for transport. Upon arriving at the children’s hospital, Jakelin was treated in the emergency room and transferred into intensive care. After going into cardiac arrest again, a CT scan diagnosed her with severe swelling of the brain and tests revealed her liver was failing. Unfortunately, at 12:35 a.m. on the morning of December 8th, Jakelin passed away with her father at her side. The cause of death was sepsis shock, brought on by the 2,000-mile trek into a remote desert with her father.
“Border Patrol Agents, including trained Emergency Medical Technicians did everything in their power to provide emergency medical assistance for Jakelin Caal Maquin immediately after her father notified the agents of her distress,” said Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
The dangers of traveling long distances, many times on foot or in over-crowded transportation, through areas plagued by violent organized crime and with some of the harshest natural elements in the Western hemisphere is not unknown by all who undertake this endeavor. The fact that children as young as Jakelin, and frequently even younger, are brought on this potentially lethal endeavor to an end that relies on chance and/or breaking the law does indeed speak much to the humanitarian crises that are going on in some of these countries, but also to the complicity of the parents in these deaths. Jakelin’s group was 90 miles away from an established border crossing that ultimately was able to render aid. This was not by accident; this group was not trying to claim asylum. They deliberately made an illegal border crossing, the moral cowardice of which cost a little girl’s life. This is undeniably a tragedy, but it isn’t the fault of American law enforcement. Her father made his choice, knowing it could result in his daughter’s death. That’s what is criminally negligent.
(The child in the cover photograph is not Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin but yet another small child whose family decided to also caravan across harsh desert lands so as to illegally cross the United States border.)