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Body of girl who died in US Border Patrol custody returns to Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY — The body of a 7-year-old girl who died while in custody of the U.S. Border Patrol arrived in her native Guatemala on Sunday and was being driven hours into the countryside to be handed over to family members for a last goodbye.

A white coffin containing Jakelin Caal was received in the afternoon at Guatemala City’s international airport by representatives of the country’s Foreign Ministry and then loaded into the back of a black hearse by workers in orange vests.

No family members were on hand. Domingo Caal, the girl’s grandfather, told The Associated Press that the family didn’t have money to travel from their poor hamlet to Guatemala’s capital.

At Domingo Caal’s home in the village of San Antonio Secortez, in the department of Alta Verapaz, relatives set up a small wooden altar flanked by vases overflowing with flowers, with photographs of Jakelin and the hand-lettered message, “We miss you.” Behind the house, dozens of women prepared tamales and beans to feed mourners.

Relatives expected the body to arrive in the pre-dawn hours Monday in the hamlet of about 420 people who mostly live off growing of corn and beans. The village has no paved streets, running water or electricity, and residents say declining crop yields and a lack of work have pushed many in the community to emigrate in recent years.

Caal and her father, Nery Caal, were traveling with a group of 163 migrants who arrived at the New Mexico border earlier this month. After they were taken into custody Dec. 6, the father told a U.S. agent that the girl was sick and vomiting.

The father signed a paper stating that Jakelin was in good health, but it is not clear how much he understood what it said. The form was in English, and agents read it to him in Spanish.

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 then 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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