Eight-Year-Old Migrant Girl Died in Overcrowded Border Facility Due to Poor Medical Care, CBP Investigation Found

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June 2, 2023

An eight-year-old Panamanian migrant died last month after receiving poor medical care at an overcrowded Customs and Border Patrol facility in Harlingen, Texas, an internal investigation found.

Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, who had a heart condition and sickle cell anemia, died on May 17 after medical personnel at the facility failed to properly and promptly address her complaints of stomach aches, nausea, difficulty breathing, fever, and flu-like symptoms, the CBP found. According to the agency's own standards, Álvarez and her family should have only been in custody for three days, instead of a whole week, but the record number of migrants at the border has overwhelmed the facility's system.

Álvarez's tragic death is one example of the humanitarian crisis at the southern border as historic floods of migrants overwhelm CBP holding stations. A 17-year-old Honduran boy died in U.S. government custody in Florida on May 10. A four-year-old from Honduras in the agency's care at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich., died on March 17 after going into cardiac arrest, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed. A record number of children have crossed the border since President Joe Biden took office, the Washington Post reported.

The Álvarez family was among the 10,000 migrants who crossed the border on May 9, two days before the termination of Title 42, a public health rule that allowed law enforcement to quickly deport aliens. The Biden administration admitted that the massive influx of migrants could lead to "dangerous and potentially inhumane conditions in overcrowded border facilities," according to the New York Times.

Medical professionals at the Harlingen facility treated Álvarez 11 times in the week she was in custody but reportedly did not know Álvarez had a heart condition and sickle cell anemia, even though these conditions were on the family's medical record. Nurses only heeded Álvarez's mother's multiple pleas for an ambulance after Álvarez had a seizure and became unresponsive. The girl died not long after arriving at the hospital.

CBP acting commissioner Troy Miller said in a Monday statement that "we must ensure that medically fragile individuals receive the best possible care and spend the minimum amount of time possible in CBP custody." In a Thursday statement, he said the agency has taken steps to fix the facility's "deficiencies," which led to the "deeply upsetting" and "unacceptable" tragedy.

"We can—and we will—do better to ensure this never happens again," Miller said.