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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Sends Letter To DHS Secretary: What Conditions at the South Texas Detention Center Led to Toddler Death and Why Wasn’t Congress Notified?

Sep 6, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Permanent Select Committee, and First Vice Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), led members of the Hispanic Caucus in asking Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the conditions at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas that led to the death of 18 month-old Mariee. Specifically, the letter urged Nielsen to direct the Office of the Inspector General to examine whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps provided the appropriate care for Mariee, whether overall care for detainees can be improved to prevent such tragedies moving forward, and for DHS to employ alternatives to detention.

“While in detention, Mariee first became ill with a pulmonary illness and suffered a high fever of over 104 degrees. After a prolonged illness and infection, Mariee passed away on May 10th from pneumonitis. We believe this infection constitutes a serious injury and, therefore, should have been reported given the prior congressional inquiries,” the Members wrote.

The Members continued: “It is critical that conditions improve in these centers so that a case like Mariee’s never happens again.  These families and young children have travelled thousands of miles to the United States to escape violence, persecution, and possible death.”

The letter was also signed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01); Second Vice Chair Congressman Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Whip Congressman Pete Aguilar (CA-31); Freshman Representative Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13); Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04); Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03); Congressman Juan Vargas (CA-51);  Congressman Filemon Vela (TX-34); Congressman Ben Ray Luján (NM-03); Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32); Congressman Darren Soto (FL-09); Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44); Congressman Salud O. Carbajal (CA-24); Congressman J. Luis Correa (CA-46); Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (NY-07); and Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34).

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

September 5, 2018
The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary                                                                                            
Department of Homeland Security                            
300 7th Street SW                                                       
Washington, D.C. 20024                                           
 

Dear Secretary Nielsen:

On July 19, 2018, Congressman Joaquin Castro sent a letter asking whether any child who has been in your care has died or been seriously injured.  At a July 25, 2018 meeting with you and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressman Castro asked you this question in person.  At that time, you stated, to your knowledge, you were not aware of any child dying or being seriously injured.  Then, on August 24, 2018, you responded to Congressman Castro’s July 19th letter, but failed to address his question.  It is unclear whether you attempted to find this answer.

Unfortunately, we have recently learned through press reports of the death of Mariee, an 18-month-old child that was held in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody with her mother, Yazmin, from March 1st to March 25th.  While in detention, Mariee first became ill with a pulmonary illness and suffered a high fever of over 104 degrees.  After a prolonged illness and infection, Mariee passed away on May 10th from pneumonitis.  We believe this infection constitutes a serious injury and, therefore, should have been reported given the prior congressional inquiries.  Further, her illness and rapid decline while in DHS custody is alarming, and raises serious concerns about the available medical care and conditions in detention facilities. 

News reports indicate that Mariee developed a cold six days after arriving at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas with her mom. The next day, Mariee developed a high fever, a cough, diarrhea, and an accelerated heart rate.  Medical staff diagnosed Mariee with bronchiolitis and an ear infection.  Over the course of her time in detention, Mariee was prescribed pain relievers, an antibiotic, and even allergy medication.  Shortly before Mariee’s release, medical staff heard wheezing in her lungs.

Mariee and Yazmin were discharged on March 25th, 20 days after they arrived in detention.  The next day, Mariee was admitted into a hospital.  Two days later, she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit upon being diagnosed with pneumonia.  Her condition worsened so much that doctors put Mariee in a medically induced coma.  Mariee passed away from viral pneumonitis six weeks after her release. 

Her story has led two Texas state agencies to open an investigation. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission will determine if abuse or neglect played a factor in Mariee’s death. 

A number of physicians and mental health care workers have expressed grave concern with the manner in which children are held, the stress it causes, and the mental and physical ramifications of these types of settings prolonging illness and recovery time. Harmful conditions in detention that many of us have seen firsthand, like crowded sleeping quarters, undue stress, and lengthy wait times to see medical practitioners, create settings rife for illness and infection.  Given this Administration’s plans to drastically increase the number of children and families that are detained, these issues will likely get much worse.

It is critical that conditions improve in these centers so that a case like Mariee’s never happens again.  These families and young children have travelled thousands of miles to the United States to escape violence, persecution, and possible death.  It is indefensible that when these young children arrive in our country, they are forced in settings that increase disease transmission and that the stress and anxiety they have experienced in their journey will likely exacerbate any illness or mental health condition. 

We request that you direct the Office of Inspector General to examine whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps provided the appropriate course of care for Mariee and whether, overall, ICE can improve the level of care provided to all detainees.  Furthermore, we ask that DHS utilize alternatives to detention that have been shown to be effective, less costly, and provide healthier settings for children and families. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We remain very concerned about the treatment of migrants, especially children, in detention and hope that you will work swiftly to investigate gaps in medical care and employ alternatives to detention. 

Sincerely,

Joaquin Castro
Member of Congress 

Michelle Lujan Grisham
Member of Congress

Ruben Gallego
Member of Congress

Pete Aguilar
Member of Congress 

Adriano Espaillat
Member of Congress 

Luis Gutiérrez
Member of Congress 

Raúl Grijalva
Member of Congress 

Juan Vargas
Member of Congress 

Filemon Vela
Member of Congress 

Ben Ray Luján
Member of Congress 

Grace Napolitano
Member of Congress 

Darren Soto
Member of Congress 

Nanette Barragán
Member of Congress 

Salud Carbajal
Member of Congress 

J. Luis Correa
Member of Congress 

Nydia Velázquez
Member of Congress 

Jimmy Gomez
Member of Congress 

 

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