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Migrant child from Guatemala who died in U.S. custody had infection, autopsy finds

An autopsy concluded a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of a bacterial infection while detained by the U.S. Border Patrol. Jakelin Caal Maquin died on December 8, just over a day after she was apprehended by Border Patrol agents with her father. 

The El Paso County Medical Examiner's office released a report Friday of its findings, saying traces of streptococcus bacteria were found in Jakelin's lungs, adrenal gland, liver, and spleen. She faced a "rapidly progressive infection" that led to the failure of multiple organs.

Jakelin was one of two children to die in Border Patrol custody in December, raising questions about the agency's medical practices as it faces a surge in migrant families crossing the southern border. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said shortly after Jakelin's death that she was apprehended with her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, in a group of 163 migrants on December 6 in New Mexico. The father signed an English-language form stating Jakelin was in good health, but it remains unclear whether he understood what the form said. 

Hours later, a bus carrying the two left the Antelope Wells port of entry for the Lordsburg station, roughly 90 minutes away. By then, according to a CBP statement, Jakelin's temperature had reached 105.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Emergency medical technicians had to revive her, and she was flown to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she died the next day.   

A person holds a picture of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal during her funeral in the village of San Antonio Secortez north of Guatemala City, on December 25, 2018. Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Later in December, an 8-year-old migrant boy from Guatemala who was apprehended by immigration authorities near the U.S.-Mexico border died, minutes before Christmas, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He was identified as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez.

CBP has said large groups of migrants are increasingly heading to remote areas of the border such as rural New Mexico, overwhelming its capacity to deal with them. The Border Patrol recently started releasing families immediately instead of referring them to processing, a step the agency said was necessary to relieve overcrowding in its facilities.

Advocates have long warned that immigration facilities are ill-suited to detain families. After Jakelin's death, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants urged the U.S. not to detain migrants and called for "a thorough investigation" of her death. 

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