Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Activists project text and a picture of Jakelin Caal onto the home of CBP's Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in Virginia. (Photo: CREDO Action/Screenshot)

Activists project text and a picture of Jakelin Caal onto the home of CBP's Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in Virginia. (Photo: CREDO Action/Screenshot)

Denouncing 7-Year-Old's Death, UN Rights Expert Demands US Halt Child Detentions

"As repeatedly stated by a series of U.N. human rights bodies, detention of children based on their migratory status is a violation of international law."

Andrea Germanos

A day after the 7-year-old girl's small body returned to Guatemala in a coffin, a United Nations human rights expert demanded an independent probe into the death of Jakelin Caal while she was in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—and made a broader call for the U.S. to stop its international law-violating practice of detaining children on the basis of their migratory status.

"The U.S. authorities must ensure that an in-depth, independent investigation of the death of Jakelin Ameí Caal is conducted," Felipe González Morales, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said in a statement Monday.

Caal died earlier this month in Texas right after after being detained along with her father and over 160 other migrants at a border crossing in New Mexico. Her death prompted outrage, with the ACLU calling it a "tragedy" that "represents the worst possible outcome when children are held in inhumane conditions."

"Access to justice for her relatives should be granted, including but not limited to having legal representation in the proceedings in a language they understand well," González Morales said, and called on the U.S. to prevent similar tragedies.

Moreover, he added, "As repeatedly stated by a series of U.N. human rights bodies, detention of children based on their migratory status is a violation of international law."

González Morales also expressed hope for being able to conduct an official visit to the United States, as that "would allow me to get first-hand, direct information about the situation of migrant children, especially on those who are being held in detention," and would "allow me to present my recommendations to the U.S. government to fulfill its international commitments to respect and protect the human rights of all migrants."

Given the tragedy, González Morales's office also sent a formal complaint to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Guardian reported Monday. Among the U.N. expert's specfic points of inquiry is finding out whether Caal was held in a kind of cell known as an "hielera" or ice box.

"There have been many complaints about the conditions of migrants in hieleras—they are places that pose a risk to the health of the persons detained," he said to the news outlet in an interview.

"When a person, especially a child, is in the custody of a state, that state has to ensure their rights. States have an obligation to care for migrants who arrive at the border, they cannot treat them as animals in inhuman conditions," he added

Following Caal's death, the National Immigration Law Center made a similar call to agencies regarding the treatment of the people they detain. 

"The death of 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin is a tragic reminder of a longstanding pattern of systemic cruelty and secrecy at CBP and its parent agency, DHS, and underscores the stark need for greater transparency and accountability at these agencies. As we mourn and demand justice for Jakelin and her loved ones, we must also take meaningful steps to prevent anything like this from happening again," said Nora Preciado, senior staff attorney for the immigrant rights organization. 

"Direct accounts over years from people in CBP custody and hard evidence obtained through litigation reveal a culture of utter disregard for human life at the agency," she added, and declared that "The culture of cruelty at CBP has only worsened under the Trump administration."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo