In a statement released on Tuesday, the US Bishops’ Conference Committee on Migration say they are distressed over the death of a 7-year-old girl who had just crossed the Mexico/US border.
“We are extremely distressed at the news of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death shortly after crossing the U.S./Mexico border with her father and turning themselves into CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) in search of asylum in the United States”. So begins a statement from the US Bishops’ Conference Committee on Migration released on Tuesday. Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Las Cruces issued the statement.
As the Church celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Jakelin Caal Maquin life came to an abrupt end. She and her father were part of a group that had travelled some 3,200 km (2,000 miles) on foot and by bus from her home in Raxruhá in Guatemala. For the first time in her life, she was wearing shoes. Along the way, she celebrated her 7th birthday. It took about a week for the group to make it to the Mexican border with the US. After paying a human trafficker, they made it to a remote area of New Mexico on December 6. Shortly after, the group turned themselves into US border authorities.
While on a bus transporting the migrants to a Border Patrol Station, Jakelin became ill and her father notified Border Patrol agents. At the end of the 90-minute bus ride, Jakelin had stopped breathing. She was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas on the morning of December 6th and died shortly after midnight on December 8th. US authorities say that she died of severe dehydration; her family awaits the results of an autopsy.
The Bishops expressed their sadness to Jakelin’s family saying, “Our prayers and heart-felt condolences go out to Jakelin’s family”. When a child dies, they said, life is “disrupted”. Her death, they continue, is a “profound human consequence of our failed immigration policies, including also that restrictions on the flow of asylum seekers at the border can push more families to seek entrance between ports of entry which place them at greater risk. Jakelin’s death is a tragic reminder of the desperate situation that many fleeing violence, persecution, and poverty face – both in their home countries and now at our border.”
The Bishops say they look forward to the results of the investigation being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security. While recognizing the “work and commitment of US border authorities, the Bishops also appealed to them to “critically review policies regarding the care of vulnerable populations in their custody” and offered their assistance in that area.
In conclusion, the Bishops put this sad incident into the context of the Christmas Season which reminds us that Jesus’ own birth took place after His parents were told there was no room for them.
“We continue to recognize and affirm that seeking asylum and protection is legal. As a nation, we have the obligation to receive distraught individuals and families with welcome, compassion, and humane treatment. We must heed the words of Christ that ‘Whatsoever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40).