A group of about 75 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles Monday night for a vigil in memory of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in Border Patrol custody this month.
The vigil, at Placita Olvera on Alameda Street, began around 7 p.m. with a group prayer for Jakelin Caal as well as the welfare of other migrants making their way toward U.S. soil. The group was then addressed by Rep. Norma Torres, herself a native of Guatemala, and planned to later march to the L.A. Police Department's nearby Metropolitan Detention Center.
Jakelin died in a hospital in Texas on Dec. 8, about 27 hours after she was taken into custody with a large group of migrants in southern New Mexico, the Associated Press reported.
Her family has taken issue with U.S. officials' accounts of what led up to her death, saying Jakelin was in good health prior to her detainment. But border agents contend that she had already been suffering from food and water deprivation.
Rep. Torres — who represents portions of San Bernardino and L.A. counties including Chino, Ontario, Fontana and Pomona — said that still wouldn't explain how she could wind up dead once in U.S. custody.
"Why does a 7-year-old girl die while in custody of the greatest country in the world? That should not have happened," Torres told KTLA. "If she is severely dehydrated, the signs should have been there, and they should have been visible enough for these agents to recognize."
The congresswoman said she chose to attend the event because "it's important for all of us Americans to stand in support of this little girl who lost her life, simply because she is an immigrant and because this administration has chosen to close the borders."
Torres used stronger language in addressing those assembled, saying she considers Jakelin's death a homicide at the hands of the Trump administration.
"The life of this little girl falls at the doorstep of the White House," Torres said. "The White House has murdered this child, and we need to demand an investigation."
After the vigil, Torres was heading to Los Angeles International Airport, where she would board a 9 p.m. flight to El Paso to join other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in meeting with officials from the Department of Homeland Security to discuss Jakelin's death and tour the facility where she was held.
The congresswoman said she plans to press immigration authorities on the slow processing of asylum claims, which she says is pushing more families into dangerous situations.
"We need to know why," Torres said. "Why do they continue to push family units with young children into desert areas rather than taking their application?"