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Mother blames toddler’s death on poor medical care in U.S. immigration jail

Yazmin Juárez with her daughter Mariee. The toddler died in May, six weeks after being released from U.S. immigration detention.
Yazmin Juárez with her daughter Mariee. The toddler died in May, six weeks after being released from U.S. immigration detention. (Family Photo)
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The mother of a Guatemalan toddler who died in May is claiming that the girl became ill and received negligent medical care while detained with hundreds of other families at an immigration jail in Texas.

Yazmin Juárez on Tuesday filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a possible lawsuit — seeking $40 million in damages from the city of Eloy, Ariz., which administers the federal contract for the South Texas Family Residential Center from more than 900 miles away.

The 20-year-old mother also plans to file a claim next month against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to sue CoreCivic, the private contractor that runs the 2,400-bed detention center, said Stanton Jones, a D.C.-based lawyer for Arnold & Porter, which is handling the case pro bono.

Officials at Eloy and ICE had no immediate comment on the claim letter. Asked about reports of the girl’s death, ICE said in a statement that the agency “takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care . . . including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care.”

The claim letter filed Tuesday said Mariee was healthy when she and her mother crossed the Rio Grande in March but developed a respiratory infection after sharing a room at the detention center in Dilley, Tex., with other mothers and children, some of whom were sick, including a sluggish boy with a cough and runny nose.

Mariee’s fever spiked to 104.2 degrees, and she vomited, suffered diarrhea and lost weight, the letter said.

Read the claim letter filed by Yazmin Juárez

Juárez, who passed an initial asylum interview and is awaiting an immigration court hearing, said in the claim letter that she brought her daughter — who would have turned 2 this month — to the center’s health clinic multiple times. There were long waits, the letter said, and they were twice turned away.

The clinic prescribed a camphor balm that is not advised for the girl’s age, because it could worsen her breathing, the letter said.

On March 23, a nurse said she would refer Mariee to a physician, according to the letter, but two days later a licensed vocational nurse who never examined the girl cleared her for release. After flying to New Jersey to join relatives. Juárez took her daughter to a pediatrician. She was admitted to the emergency room needing oxygen that night.

Over the next six weeks, Mariee spent time in two hospitals. She died May 10 after “a catastrophic intrathoracic hemorrhage” led to brain and organ damage, the letter said. The cause of death was bronchiectasis, pulmonitis and pneumothorax, or collapsed lung.

In her last days, Mariee suffered “extreme physical and emotional pain,” was stuck with needles and was unable to hug her mother or to be held, the letter said.

The Dilley center opened in 2014 to handle a surge of migrant families from Central America seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. To speed the process, the Obama administration modified an existing immigration-detention contract with Eloy.

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