Monday 18 February, 2019

A tragic journey home: migrant girl's body back in Guatemala

Family members pay their final respects to 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin during a memorial service in her grandparent's home in San Antonio Secortez, Guatemala, Monday, Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)

Family members pay their final respects to 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin during a memorial service in her grandparent's home in San Antonio Secortez, Guatemala, Monday, Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)

The tiny white coffin carrying the body of the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died while in U.S. custody ended its somber journey home in the pre-dawn hours Monday in a dusty hamlet 220 miles north of the capital.

Villagers wept and watched curiously as the coffin arrived at the home of Jakelin Caal's grandparents in San Antonio Secortez, where relatives had set up a modest wooden altar flanked by vases and overflowing with flowers, photographs of the child and the hand-lettered message, "We miss you."

The girl's mother, Claudia Maquin, closed her eyes and moaned deeply when confronted with her daughter's body. As the heartbreaking reality appeared to set in, she covered her face and cried.

Behind the house, dozens of women prepared tamales and beans to feed the mourners.

Jakelin's death earlier this month while in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol was a tragic reminder of the plight of Central American migrants as they make their way through Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S., and came as Americans are deeply divided over U.S. President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration.

The child's tragic journey began and ended in the village of about 420 people with no paved streets, running water or electricity. Its residents say declining crop yields and lack of work have pushed many in the community to emigrate in recent years.

Domingo Caal, the girl's grandfather, told The Associated Press the family couldn't afford to travel to the capital to meet the coffin when it landed in Guatemala's capital. Nearby communities donated money and grain to the grieving family as the coffin made its way through other villages before reaching its destination.

The girl and her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz, had been traveling with a group of 163 migrants who were arrested Dec. 6 near a border crossing 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 Customs and Border Protection statement, Jakelin's temperature had reached 105.7 degrees Fahrenheit (40.9 degrees Celsius). Emergency medical technicians had to revive her.

She was flown to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she died the next day.

Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra said the ministry had sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. State Department asking for it to monitor the case and determine the cause of death.

Domingo Caal said his son has a Jan. 3 court date in the United States to determine his migratory status.

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