Lawyers Say A Migrant Toddler Died After Being Released From ICE Custody — Here's What We Know
On Wednesday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said that a migrant toddler died after being released from ICE custody at a Texas family detention facility. The child's name has not been released, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says in a statement to Bustle that it can't fully investigate the claim without the child's identifying information.
"Reports that a child died in ICE custody at Dilley are false," ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett says in the statement, adding that the agency is looking into reports that a death occurred after custody.
Immigration lawyer Mana Yegani first tweeted about the case on Tuesday, claiming that a child had died following a stay at the South Texas Family Residential Center, located in Dilley, Texas. She alleged that the death was a result of negligent care and respiratory illness, although neither the child's death nor its cause have been independently confirmed.
George Tzamaras, a spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), tells Bustle the group learned from a contact who'd been in touch with the child's family that the death occurred after the child and a parent left Dilley. AILA does not have additional details regarding the reported death, however.
Gregory Chen, director of government relations for AILA, told The Washington Post that the association’s lawyers have "seen ongoing inadequacies in the standard of care provided to mothers and children in Dilley, and have filed complaints with the government raising these concerns."
The South Texas Family Residential Center, which holds mostly holds women and children from Central America, is the nation's largest family immigration detention center. While it's unclear how long the child who reportedly died was in ICE custody, families are typically released within three weeks. That's in accordance with the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which requires that migrant children who enter the United States with a parent be released after a maximum of 20 days in detention.
But the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy led to a spike in the number of people detained after illegally crossing the border. The government said nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents from April 19-May 31, and the administration has yet to reunite them all, despite a court order to do so.
The report of a child's death surfaced on the same day that 500 fathers and their sons who are being detained at the Karnes Detention Center in Texas planned to hold a strike, according to a RAICES Texas press release.
“When they reunified us, the government should have had a plan about what they were going to do with us. No one knows where we are,” one father told RAICES, according to the press release. RAICES wrote that it believes the fathers planning to strike were "coerced into accepting deportation in order to expedite reunification with their children."
It's unclear where the parents of the toddler who reportedly died are located. Yegani wrote on Twitter that she learned about the case from another lawyer, who she said is a friend of the victim’s family and had posted on Facebook in search of an attorney to represent them.
In an email to The Washington Post, that lawyer, Melissa Turcios, said only that she is helping the family obtain pro bono legal representation.