Democrats with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus say they will tour a Border Patrol station in New Mexico on Tuesday to “investigate” the circumstances leading up to the death of a Guatemalan girl who collapsed hours after she and her father were taken into U.S. custody on Dec. 6.
The congressional delegation, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), plans to visit the border crossing at Antelope Wells, where Jakelin Caal, 7, and her father, Nery Caal, entered the United States illegally as part of a group of 163 migrants. The caucus members will then visit the Lordsburg Border Patrol station, 90 miles north, where they will be joined by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
According to congressional aides, lawmakers want to question the Border Patrol agents present when Caal became critically ill, but CBP officials have not granted the request.
McAleenan has insisted U.S. agents did everything possible to save the child once her father gave notice his daughter was sick.
Following their tour in Lordsburg, lawmakers plan to hold a news conference to describe “how these stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge at our borders,” according to a statement issued by the caucus Monday.
The statement did not indicate whether lawmakers would address the “legal loopholes” that McAleenan and other Homeland Security officials have urged Congress to fix as unprecedented numbers of families with children are arriving at the U.S. border, overwhelming U.S. agents and border stations that were not designed for children.
After citing a fear of return to their home countries, the families are assigned a court date months or years away and freed from custody, a system President Trump decries as “catch and release.” More than 25,000 members of “family units” were arrested along the Mexico border last month, a record, and in recent months, smuggling groups in Guatemala have been telling potential customers to bring children with them to avoid detention and deportation.
Jakelin Caal and her father had been in Border Patrol custody nearly eight hours when he told agents his daughter was ailing. The girl began vomiting at the beginning of their bus ride from Antelope Wells to Lordsburg, and by the time they arrived she had stopped breathing. The child’s temperature was 105.9 degrees, according to CBP reports.
The 7-year-old was flown by helicopter to an El Paso children’s hospital, but she died there less than 15 hours later of “dehydration, shock and liver failure,” according to CBP. Full autopsy results are not expected for several more weeks.
CBP officials and the Department of Homeland Security said last week that Nery Caal told U.S. agents his daughter had not consumed food or water for several days before entering the United States, then received both once in U.S. custody. On Saturday, though, he disputed the CBP account in a statement read by representatives, insisting his daughter had been in normal health before crossing the border.
Nery Caal also thanked agents and emergency responders for attempting to save his daughter’s life.
There were only four Border Patrol agents at the remote border crossing on the night of Dec. 6, when Caal and his daughter arrived with their large group, and no medical personnel available, according to CBP.