EL PASO — A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who collapsed in Border Patrol custody in December — one of two child deaths that month — died of a bacterial infection that spread to her bloodstream and caused multiple organ failure, according to an autopsy report released Friday.
The El Paso County Medical Examiner’s office concluded after a nearly four-month investigation that Jakelin Caal Maquin died of Streptococcal sepsis, which spread to her liver, lungs and other organs.
The 18-page report by Mario A. Rascon, the medical examiner, described a “rapidly progressive infection,” with “substantial clinical deterioration.”
The findings add to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s initial reports that Jakelin succumbed to dehydration, shock and liver failure after she and her father were apprehended illegally crossing from Mexico into the United States on Dec. 6. They were held for several hours in federal custody, where the young girl vomited, had a fever and experienced difficulty breathing. She was taken to an El Paso hospital, where she died Dec. 8.
The report did not resolve disputes over whether Jakelin was taken to the hospital for treatment quickly enough and whether she was given sufficient water after she and her father crossed into a remote New Mexico outpost, part of a group of more than 160 migrants. About two weeks later, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, also from Guatemala, died after several days in federal custody. His death is under investigation in New Mexico, an official said.
“While the report sheds some light on Jakelin’s cause of death, it still leaves many questions that require further review,” lawyers for Jakelin’s family said Friday. “The report’s findings suggest Jakelin’s chances of surviving would have been improved with earlier medical intervention. As we requested back in December of last year, the family seeks a thorough independent investigation of this matter to learn why medical intervention was delayed.”
The deaths of the children caused heightened scrutiny of detention conditions and spurred officials to send medical teams and helicopters to screen arriving families. The deaths also raised concerns about massive groups of Central American families surrendering at the southern border.
Colleen Kraft, the immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, renewed calls for the customs agency to allow trained pediatricians to screen children so they can identify urgent medical conditions as the children arrive.
“It’s quite possible that she could’ve been showing some of the early signs of shock and that was missed,” Kraft said.
Tekandi Paniagua, Guatemala’s consul in Del Rio, Tex., said Jakelin’s father, who was released, remains in the United States awaiting a court hearing.
The matter is “in the lawyers’ hands,” Paniagua said.
This week, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan called for more resources at the border. He said the law enforcement agency is overwhelmed because of the volume of migrants it is encountering, including families with infants, some of whom are suffering from serious medical issues such, including fevers and seizure disorders.
“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility,” McAleenan said. “But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”
Members of Congress and advocates say they are concerned the Trump administration is failing to provide adequate care.
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), who said he is working on legislation to improve care, called the conditions where Jakelin was held “woefully insufficient.”
Sacchetti reported from Washington. Moore is a freelance journalist based in Texas.