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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."

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)

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."

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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."

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