A Guatemalan mother whose toddler died weeks after being released from a Texas immigrant family detention center is suing the private prison company that operates the facility.
Yazmin Juárez, who testified in Congress earlier this month about her 21-month-old daughter’s death, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking $40 million in damages from CoreCivic, which runs the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.
Juarez and her daughter, Mariee, were detained for three weeks at the 2,400-bed facility last year. Mariee died six-and-a-half weeks after their release.
“CoreCivic held families and small children in overcrowded quarters, creating prime conditions for the spread of sickness, and did nothing to ensure that those families and children received adequate medical care,” the lawsuit says. “As a result of CoreCivic’s recklessness, negligence, and callous indifference to the health and safety of the families and small children detained at Dilley, Mariee suffered an agonizing death, and Ms. Juárez suffered the unimaginable pain of watching her only child sicken, suffer, and die before her eyes.”
A spokeswoman for CoreCivic said medical and mental healthcare services at Dilley are the responsibility of the ICE Health Service Corps, and referred questions about medical and mental health treatment there to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Last year Juarez filed a wrongful death claim seeking $60 million from the US government. In response to a CNN inquiry about the case last year, an ICE spokeswoman defended medical care at the facility.
“ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care,” the spokeswoman said. “… Staffing includes registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, licensed mental health providers, mid-level providers that include a physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner, a physician, dental care and access to 24-hour emergency care.”
CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said Wednesday the company can’t comment on the specifics of pending litigation.
“What I can tell you is we have deep sympathy for the family and the tragic loss of their child six weeks after leaving the facility,” Gilchrist said in a written statement Wednesday. “We care about every person entrusted to us, especially vulnerable populations for which our partners rightfully have very high standards that we work hard to meet each day.”
Gilchrist added that the facility provides student education and monitored childcare, playrooms, recreation areas and a library.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday paints a much darker picture of conditions there.
The suit outlines numerous allegations of inadequate medical care at Dilley, including concerns raised by whistleblower doctors who the lawsuit says warned of “grave health and safety hazards to children at Dilley and other family detention facilities.”
The suit alleges that Mariee “died from an entirely preventable and treatable illness that she contracted” at Dilley. It began as an ordinary infection and “went woefully undertreated,” the suit says.
“When clinic staff did see Mariee, their examinations were cursory, and the treatments fell far below the standard of care. This was not merely an error in medical judgment,” the suit says. “It was flagrant neglect of a gravely sick child.”
The child was admitted to a hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit a day after her release from ICE custody, the suit says. Doctors’ efforts to save her for weeks proved unsuccessful. She died in May 2018, when she was 21 weeks old.
“On the day her daughter died, Ms. Juárez left the hospital with only an ink print of Mariee’s right hand, made the day before as a Mother’s Day gift,” the suit says.
Speaking at a Congressional hearing last month, Juárez wept as she described her daughter’s final days.
“It is painful for me to relive this experience, and remember that suffering,” she said. “But I am here because the world should know what is happening to so many children inside of ICE detention.”