A mother whose toddler died weeks after becoming ill in ICE custody has filed a $60 million wrongful death claim against the U.S. government.
Yazmin Juárez, 20, and her 18-month-old daughter, Mariee, were apprehended in March by border agents on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, and taken to a crowded immigrant detention center in Dilley, Texas. They were there, Juárez says, in an effort to flee the violence that had overtaken their home country of Guatemala.
Juárez and her lawyer say that ICE and CoreCivic, the private company that mostly operates the South Texas Family Residential Center — the largest immigrant detention center in the U.S — provided poor medical care for Mariee, who entered the facility in good health. But after a week of detention, Mariee developed a respiratory infection, with symptoms including a fever of over 104 degrees, a cough, congestion, diarrhea and vomiting, attorney R. Stanton Jones said.
About two weeks later, mother and daughter were released from the ICE facility and transferred to New Jersey. Six weeks and three hospital stays later, Mariee was pronounced dead from viral pneumonitis, according to hospital records obtained by VICE News earlier this year.
“The U.S. government had a duty to provide this little girl with safe, sanitary living conditions and proper medical care, but they failed to do that, resulting in tragic consequences," Jones said in a statement.
"Mariee entered Dilley a healthy baby girl, and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection. 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."
Juárez and her lawyer filed their suit Tuesday, naming a number of agencies as defendants, including the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the Department of Health and Human Services, and Customs and Border Patrol.
After a VICE News investigation into Mariee’s death, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, comprised of 17 members of Congress led by Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asking her to order the inspector general to look into conditions at the South Texas detention center. “It is critical that conditions improve in these centers so that a case like Mariee’s never happens again,” they stated in the letter.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment.