Lawyers for Yazmin Juárez, the mother of a toddler, Mariee, who died of pneumonia two months after contracting a virus in ICE custody earlier this year, are asking for $40 million from the city of Eloy, Arizona, in a wrongful death claim.
Lawyers with Arnold & Porter, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, said in a letter to city officials that Mariee received negligent medical care at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, that led to her death.
In a rare contracting deal, Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays Eloy to pay the private prison company, CoreCivic, to run the Dilley detention center.
“Under Eloy’s watch, families and children at Dilley have been housed in close quarters, and many suffer from untreated illnesses and other medical conditions,” the letter reads. “These conditions are inherently unsafe and endanger the health and lives of all those who are detained there, especially small children like Mariee.”
The claim comes after a VICE News investigation into the death of Mariee, an 18-month-old who came to the U.S. with her mother in February, fleeing violence in their home country Guatemala. Yazmin and Mariee spent 20 days at Dilley in March, where Mariee first showed signs of a viral respiratory infection. She died six weeks after leaving ICE custody at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, of viral pneumonitis.
VICE News reconstructed the last two months of Mariee’s life using medical records, interviews with her mother, and independent analysis from medical experts. Five pediatricians interviewed by VICE News about Mariee’s medical treatment at Dilley say it was adequate given the symptoms she had at the time. Our investigation found that being confined likely put Mariee at higher risk for contracting an infection, and conditions at Dilley likely made it harder for her to recover.
During their time in confinement, Yazmin said, she and Mariee shared a room with five other mothers and their children. At one point, Yazmin was so desperate about Mariee’s condition that she said she asked the staff to send them back to Guatemala so that she could take Mariee to a hospital.
Yazmin’s lawyers name the mayor of Eloy, Joel Belloc, and other city leadership as responsible parties, and request that they settle the claim so as not to cause further harm to Yazmin and her family. Belloc’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
On Twitter, Daniel Jacobson, an associate at Arnold & Porter, said the firm will bringing more legal claims on behalf of Yazmin soon.
Cover: Photos provided by Yazmin Juaréz of herself and Mariee.