A few weeks ago, rumors spread across the internet that a child had died in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody. It turned out that information was false. The Vice News report that spurred those rumors, however, is just as disturbing. It tells the story of Yazmin Juárez, 20, a Guatemalan asylum-seeker who entered the US in March and was detained by ICE in Dilley, Texas. She brought her 18-month-old daughter, Mariee, across the border with her. While in detention, Mariee developed a respiratory infection that became increasingly serious. When Juárez was released, she sought medical treatment for her daughter, but it was too late. Six weeks after their release, Mariee died.
Juárez is now taking legal action against ICE. Her lawyers told Vice:
“Instead of offering safe harbor from the life-threatening violence they were fleeing, ICE detained Yazmin and her baby in a place with unsafe conditions, neglectful medical care, and inadequate supervision,” said R. Stanton Jones, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based Arnold & Porter law firm. “While there, Mariee contracted a respiratory infection that went woefully undertreated for nearly a month. After it became clear that Mariee was gravely ill, ICE simply discharged mother and daughter. Yazmin immediately sought medical care for her baby, but it was too late.”
Doctors contacted by Vice for the article say that the treatment that Mariee received was “reasonable,” and it’s possible she would have died even if she had hospital care from the beginning of her illness. Others say that the stress of being in detention could have damaged Mariee’s immune system.
“Respiratory diseases, they flourish in the setting of crowding,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine told Vice. “Now you’re adding this terrible level of psycho-social stress on kids, that could also impair their immune system, making them more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.”
“Those stresses are real; they affect the child’s abilities to fight an infection and illness and win,” Brian Blaisch, a pediatrician who has worked in immigrant detention centers, told Vice.
Past government reports have found consistent problems with medical treatment at the Dilley facility where Juárez and her daughter stayed. The facility is run by private prison giant CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and was built by the Obama administration. It’s the largest family detention center in the country. In 2016, a report from the Department of Homeland Security found that the center didn’t respond properly to sick detainees. “Parents and children should not have to wait 24 hours for treatment and should not have to wait for their healthcare needs to become urgent to receive quicker attention and treatment,” they wrote.
Another review of Dilley’s facilities released in July found widespread problems. From Vice:
At Dilley, [doctors] Allen and McPherson found detainees seeking medical care were held together in a gym because the facility lacked sufficient medical space. They also said Dilley had trouble keeping pediatricians on staff, did not hire a child psychiatrist, and sometimes placed toddlers and their parents in medical isolation for days as punishment for normal toddler misbehavior. On one occasion, a nurse mistakenly gave multiple children at Dilley adult doses of a vaccine, they found.
Whether or not Mariee could have been saved by better treatment in the ICE facility is unknown. But the scientific consensus is that detention is stressful and harmful to children and adults alike.
“I had the illusion of making a new life with [Mariee], because my life in Guatemala was unbearable,” Juárez told Vice. “I wanted to live happily with her, to go to the park with her and to work hard for her. She was everything to me, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”