Caal was traveling with her father, Nery Caal, 29, to the United States to seek asylum. They were part of a larger group of about 163 other migrants. An official with Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press that the Caals, along with the rest of the asylum-seekers, were picked by Border Patrol in New Mexico on the night of December 6; the group had turned themselves in to border agents.
Early the next morning, Caal started having seizures, the Post reported, citing CBP records. While detained, her father had informed CBP agents she was vomiting and was ill. They were nonetheless placed on a bus at about 5 a.m. to be transported to another border facility. When they arrived about 90 minutes later, Caal had stopped breathing. Emergency medical responders revived her twice at the scene, and charted her temperature at 105.7 degrees. She was airlifted to Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, TX, where she later died of cardiac arrest, reported NBC.
While an autopsy is pending, her cause of death was listed as “septic shock, fever, and dehydration” — but by CBP’s own admission, Caal “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.” Immigration officials insist that detained migrants have access to food and water once they are detained by border agents. It is not clear if Caal was fed or given water at the initial detainment, or during the 90-minute bus trip after her father reported her illness. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told Vox, “In keeping with standard Border Patrol protocol, the father and child were at a station where water was available.”
In two widely criticized statements, CBP and DHS appeared to blame Nery Caal. CBP’s statement read, in part, “Traveling north through Mexico illegally in an attempt to reach the United States is extremely dangerous. Drug cartels, human smugglers and the elements pose deadly risks to anyone who seeks to cross our border illegally...Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the medical team treating the child, we were unable to stop this tragedy from occurring. Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally.” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said, “This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally,” on an appearance on Fox & Friends.
The American Civil Liberties Union told the Post they are calling for an investigation into Caal’s death. “The fact that it took a week for this to come to light shows the need for transparency for CBP. We call for a rigorous investigation into how this tragedy happened and serious reforms to prevent future deaths,” said spokesperson Cynthia Pompa.
Refinery29 has reached out the CBP and DHS for comment.