Advocates say immigrant child died shortly after leaving ICE custody

Published 11:42 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2018

HOUSTON — A report that a child died shortly after being released from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Texas inflamed the debate Wednesday over the detention of immigrant families, though there were few details about what actually happened.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association said it had learned of the death of a child shortly after the child and parent left the ICE family detention center at Dilley, Texas. The legal group said it was made aware of the death through someone in contact with the family it could not identify, and that it had no further details.

ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said that the agency would investigate the report, “but without any specifics about who this was we are unable to provide anything further at this time.” ICE denied that a child died at the detention center.

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The story began to spread after Houston-based lawyer Mana Yegani tweeted Tuesday night that she had heard reports “that a child died in ICE custody in Dilley, Texas.” Yegani then followed up to say she heard the child had actually died after leaving Dilley. She would delete her original tweet.

But her initial report was widely shared and discussed on social media, reflecting the impassioned nature of the debate over immigrant children and the separation of families at the border under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

Yegani said Wednesday that she based her tweets off a Facebook post written by another lawyer, Melissa Turcios.

Turcios, based in Washington, confirmed to The Associated Press that she wrote the Facebook post Yegani saw, but declined to comment further. Her post said the granddaughter of a friend of hers died “as a result of negligent care and a respiratory illness she contracted from one of the other children.”

Human Rights Watch and the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which represents families held at the facility, both said they did not know how the child had died or whether medical care in the facility was to blame.

Immigrant advocates have long complained about the quality of medical care at detention facilities and have urged federal authorities to release immigrants from custody wherever possible.

The conditions at the facilities made headlines on Tuesday when a top ICE official told lawmakers at a congressional hearing that the “the best way to describe” conditions at family detention centers was “like a summer camp.”

Matthew Albence, an executive associate director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said facilities undergo rigorous inspections and offer recreation, food and water around the clock and medical and dental care.

The San Antonio-based advocacy group RAICES said Wednesday that 500 detained fathers and children were organizing a strike at the other ICE family detention facility in Texas, in the town of Karnes. RAICES says the fathers participating in the strike would refuse to eat or obey orders.

In 2015, immigrant mothers filed a complaint about medical care at two family detention facilities in Texas that opened during the Obama administration, including Dilley. The mothers said they were told to drink water to treat a range of problems including broken bones in a hand and a child who had diarrhea for two weeks.