Six days after Yazmin Juarez and her 19-month-old daughter, Mariee, entered a U.S. immigration facility in Dilley, Texas, the toddler developed a severe respiratory infection. Six weeks after the two were released, Mariee died of the illness. Now Yazmin has filed a wrongful death claim in which she seeks $60 million from the U.S. government, citing conditions that are “unsafe, unsanitary, and inappropriate for small children,” according to the claim. It called the medical care she received, “woefully inadequate, neglectful, and substandard.”
The mother and daughter were coming from Guatemala when they were detained at the U.S. border by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on March 1. They were taken to the South Texas Family Residential Center, where they remained for three weeks. But for much of that time, Yazmin was desperately trying to get crucial medical help for her daughter, whose health was declining rapidly. The little girl received just a few prescription medications that weren’t working, according to CNN.
Allegedly, when it was clear that Mariee was not recovering, ICE discharged the pair, Juarez’s pro bono attorney Stanton Jones of Arnold & Porter said in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Mariee entered Dilley a healthy baby girl and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection,” the statement reads. “Within a week of entering Dilley, Mariee was running a 104-degree fever while suffering from a cough, congestion, diarrhea and vomiting. The medical staff who discharged her weeks later noted none of these conditions and cleared her for travel without viewing Mariee, conducting any kind of examination, or taking her vital signs.”
By the time the mom was free to seek medical attention outside the facility, it was too late. The 20-year-old parent had taken her daughter to doctors in New Jersey, where her own mother lives. Mariee was subsequently transferred to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but by the time she made it there there was little doctors could do to save her. The toddler died of respiratory failure on May 10.
“Mariee died just months before her 2nd birthday because ICE and others charged with her medical care neglected to provide the most basic standard of care as her condition rapidly deteriorated and her mother Yazmin pleaded for help,” Jones said. The attorney asserted that it was the South Texas Family Residential Center’s responsibility to provide safe and sanitary conditions, but they failed — and their neglect had tragic circumstances.
Dr. Benard Dreyer, the former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician at New York University Langone Health, confirmed that the treatment Mariee received at the facility was substandard. “After reviewing the medical records from Mariee’s treatment at the Dilley detention facility, it is clear that ICE medical staff failed to meet the most basic standard of care and engaged in some troubling practices such as providing pediatric care over a long period of time by non-physicians without supervision,” he said in Arnold & Porter’s statement to Yahoo Lifestyle. “If signs of persistent and severe illness are present in a young child, the standard of care is to seek emergency care.”
In August, Juarez’s lawyers filed a notice of claim — seeking $40 million — against the city of Eloy, Ariz., the federal government’s prime contractor in operating the immigration facility in Dilley, for the wrongful death of Mariee, according to CNN. Juarez and her attorneys have reportedly now filed claims against other government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, for a total of $60 million. “The litigation is also expected to involve other defendants and claims,” the attorneys’ statement read.
When reached by CNN, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — a division of the Department of Homeland Security — declined to comment pending litigation, but a statement released to the outlet did say, “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations. In DHS’s homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the department’s mission, uphold our laws while continuing to provide our nation with safety and security.”
A spokesperson for ICE, Jennifer Elzea, denied wrongdoing and told CNN the organization’s medical care is up to par. She released a statement that read: “ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care. Staffing includes registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, licensed mental health providers, mid-level providers that include a physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner, a physician, dental care and access to 24-hour emergency care.”
This is not the first time the South Texas Family Residential Center has been accused of being responsible for a child’s death. In August, another child — whose identity remains anonymous — died after alleged “abuse and neglect.” The family of that child were also represented by Arnold & Porter. Jones told CNN he’s on a crusade to make sure this is the last time we hear about a story like this: “We are working with Yazmin and her family to obtain justice for the failures by ICE and others, and to ensure that no other family suffers such a needless and devastating loss.”