An 8-year-old girl from Panama died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol last month after being denied medical care for her chronic conditions and suffering a seizure, according to an internal investigation by the agency.
The girl, Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez, had sickle cell anemia and congenital heart disease, which her family reported to the agency when they crossed the border into Brownsville, Texas, on May 9. But none of the medical personnel who saw her at a border station in Harlingen, Texas, where she was held for a week, were aware of her medical history or reviewed the documents that her family provided.
She was seen by medical staff nine times in three days, but only three of those encounters were documented. She complained of fever, flu-like symptoms and pain, and was treated with medications, ice packs and a cold shower. Her fever peaked at 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit on May 16, the day before she died.
A nurse practitioner who saw her four times on May 17 refused three or four requests from her mother for an ambulance or for her child to be taken to a hospital, the investigation found. The nurse also declined to review a pile of documents and some folic acid tablets that another medical staff member brought from the family’s home. Folic acid can be used to treat anemia.
Hours later, the mother returned carrying her daughter in her arms, who appeared to be having a seizure. Emergency services were called, but the girl was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“They killed my daughter, because she was nearly a day and a half without being able to breathe,” the mother, Mabel Alvarez Benedicks, told The Associated Press. “She cried and begged for her life and they ignored her. They didn’t do anything for her.”
The investigation also found that the medical staff did not consult with doctors or an on-call pediatrician about the girl’s condition or treatment.
The acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Troy Miller, said in a statement that the death was “deeply upsetting” and an “unacceptable tragedy.”
“We can — and we will — do better to ensure this never happens again,” he said. He added that several medical providers involved in the incident had been prohibited from working in CBP facilities.
The girl’s death was the second death in custody of a child in two weeks, after a 17-year-old Honduran boy died in a shelter in Florida run by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The deaths have raised questions about the quality of medical care and oversight at border facilities, which have been overwhelmed by a surge of migrants seeking asylum in the United States. By CBP’s own standards, migrants should not be held in custody for more than three days, but that is often not the case due to processing delays and lack of space.
The agency said it was taking steps to improve its medical screening and care protocols, as well as its data collection and reporting systems. It also said it was working with other federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations to address the humanitarian challenges at the border.
Eight-year-old who died in border custody repeatedly denied ambulance, BBC News, June 2, 2023
Border Patrol found failings in the in-custody death of 8-year-old girl, The Texas Tribune, June 1, 2023
Child Migrant Who Died in C.B.P. Custody Was Seen by Medical Staff 11 Times, The New York Times, June 1, 2023
Tragic Death of 8-Year-Old Panamanian Girl in U.S. Border Patrol Custody Sparks Investigation, BNN Network, June 1, 2023