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Border Patrol Illegally Held a Sick 9-Year-Old Girl Without Medical Attention, Lawsuit Says

She and her mother were detained at a California Border Patrol station for 10 days.

by Gaby Del Valle
Oct 15 2019, 3:20pm

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A 9-year-old asylum-seeker from El Salvador was held in a California Border Patrol station for 10 days with her mother, according to a lawsuit reviewed by KPBS. Conditions at the facility also made the child sick, advocates say, but she didn’t receive any medical attention.

The girl’s detention violated a longstanding court settlement that outlines how the government is supposed to treat migrant children in its custody, her attorneys told KPBS. The settlement, known as the Flores Settlement agreement, states that minors can only stay in Border Patrol custody for 72 hours. The girl and her mom were finally released on Monday.

“There are exceptions when a given individual may remain in CBP custody for a longer period of time for one of any number of reasons, such as the need to maintain family unity; availability of appropriate detention space in another facility; translation requirements, and more,” a CBP spokesperson told KPBS.

The Trump administration, after repeatedly characterizing the agreement as a “loophole” that migrant families abuse to be let into the country, tried unsuccessfully in August to change the rule to indefinitely hold migrant children. And the girl’s lawyers say Border Patrol violated federal rules.

“In the case of CBP custody, it sets a strict 72-hour limit on children in CBP custody because they are meant as short-term holding facilities and there have been numerous reports and documentation of inadequate medical care, inadequate access to food and water, poor sanitation, and frequent illness,” Erika Pinheiro, an attorney with the organization Al Otro Lado, which is representing the girl, told NBC San Diego.

READ: "You can't give a friend a hug": The alleged prison-like conditions at the largest U.S. migrant children's shelter

This isn’t the first time migrant children have been held in Border Patrol stations for longer than the Flores agreement allows. Over the summer, hundreds of kids were detained in crowded, dirty facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border for weeks.

The girl’s lawyer told KPBS that she suffered from stomach pains and diarrhea while in detention and didn’t receive medical treatment until they were released to a shelter.

After arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, the girl and her mother had to wait several months to ask for asylum because of the Trump administration’s “metering” policy, which limits how many migrants are processed at ports of entry each day, her attorneys told KPBS.

When the mother and daughter finally got a chance to ask for asylum, in May, they were sent back to Tijuana as part of the administration’s Remain in Mexico policy, which requires some asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases play out, a process that often takes months.

Cover image: A girl plays along the border wall, right, separating San Diego from Tijuana, Mexico, where it meets the Pacific Ocean, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Tijuana. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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