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Family of Migrant Girl Disputes Story  12/16 10:03

   (AP) -- The family of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border 
Patrol custody is disputing an account from U.S. officials who said she had not 
been given food or water for days.

   In a statement released by lawyers, the parents of Jakelin Caal said the 
girl had been given food and water and appeared to be in good health as she 
traveled through Mexico with her father, 29-year-old Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz. 
The family added that Jakelin had not been traveling through the desert for 
days before she was taken into custody.

   Tekandi Paniagua, the Guatemalan consul in Del Rio, Texas, told The 
Associated Press that he spoke with the Jakelin's father. The consul said Nery 
Caal told him the group they were traveling with was dropped off in Mexico 
about a 90-minute walk from the border.

   Border Patrol officials did not immediately respond to the family's comments.

   The family's statement was released Saturday during a news conference in El 
Paso, Texas, at an immigrant shelter where Jakelin's father is staying. Her 
family did not attend and has asked for privacy.

   Jakelin and her father were seeking asylum in the U.S. and were among a 
large group of migrants arrested Dec. 6 near a remote border crossing in New 
Mexico. Hours later they were placed on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol 
station, but Jakelin began vomiting and eventually stopped breathing. She later 
died at a Texas hospital.

   Border Patrol officials on Friday said agents did everything they could to 
save the girl but that she had not had food or water for days. They added that 
an initial screening showed no evidence of health problems, and that her father 
had signed a form indicating she was in good health.

   But the family took issue with that form, which was in English, a language 
her father doesn't speak or read. He communicated with border agents in Spanish 
but he primarily speaks the Mayan Q'eqchi' language.

   "It is unacceptable for any government agency to have persons in custody 
sign documents in a language that they clearly do not understand," the 
statement said.

   Jakelin's family is urging authorities to conduct an "objective and 
thorough" investigation into the death and to determine whether officials met 
standards for the arrest and custody of children.

   A cause of death has not yet been released. A private prayer service was 
held in Texas on Friday so her father could see Jakelin's body before it is 
taken to Guatemala, said Ruben Garcia, director of the Annunciation House 
shelter where her father is staying.

   "All of us were moved by the depth of his faith and his trust that God's 
hand is in all of this," Garcia said.

   Family members in Guatemala said Caal decided to migrate with his favorite 
child to earn money he could send back home. Jakelin's mother and three 
siblings remained in San Antonio Secortez, a village of about 420 inhabitants.


(KA)

 
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