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Migrant Child Dies in Customs and Border Patrol Custody Nine Days after Entering U.S.

by Jo Ellen Nott

Amid a record-breaking surge of migrants at the southern U.S. border, eight-year-old Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez, a medically fragile Honduran child, died in a hospital near Harlingen Station in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley on May 17, 2023,

The day after her family crossed the border at Brownsville on May 9, 2023, Anadith was medically screened during intake by federal Customs and Border Protection (CPB). Her parents told contracted medical staff that she had congenital heart disease and sickle cell anemia. She was put in medical isolation on May 14, 2023.

Over the next three days, as she was transported to a hospital and died, Anadith complained of fever, flu-like symptoms and pain. Medical staff gave her Tamiflu and treated her with icepacks, fever-reducing medications, and a cold shower for a fever that reached 104.9 the day before she died.

Afterward, an internal review of “events and interactions” leading up to the death focused on contracted medical personnel and CPB agents, all of whom stated they did not know the girl's medical history.

But CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility issued a report on June 1, 2023, which contradicted what contracted medical personnel claimed: The family did in fact inform the agency of her chronic sickle cell anemia and heart disease upon arrival at the processing facility.

The internal review also found that “contracted medical personnel [at Harlingen Station] failed to document numerous medical encounters, emergency antipyretic interventions, and administrations of medicine.” Additionally, while the girl was sick, “contracted medical personnel did not consult with on-call physicians (including an on-call pediatrician) about the girl’s condition, symptoms, or treatment.”    

In its report, CBP noted that “[d]espite the girl’s condition, her mother’s concerns, and the series of treatments required to manage her condition, contracted medical personnel did not transfer her to a hospital for higher-level care.”

Finally the distraught mother carried her daughter – then in the throes of seizures – to medical staff, who observed she became unresponsive and CPR was ineffective. Only then was a decision was made to transport Anadith to Harlingen’s Valley Baptist Medical Center. She died there less than an hour after her arrival. 

In a statement on June 1, 2023, acting CPB Commissioner Troy Miller acknowledged the death was “deeply upsetting” and an “unacceptable tragedy.” He went on to claim, “We can — and we will — do better to ensure this never happens again.”

CBP also claimed that federal law enforcement barred any contracted medical providers involved in the incident from future work with the agency.

The Texas Civil Rights Project responded to the CBP statement through senior attorney Karla Marisol Vargas of the Beyond Borders Program: “To add to their suffering and righteous anger, through this [CBP] statement, the U.S. government is trying to divert responsibility for this little girl’s death away from their own deadly neglect.”

The organization will represent the child’s family in their lawsuit against CPB.

Sources:  ABC News, CNN, NBC News, Washington Post   

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