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Law firm criticizes ICE for toddler's death after release

Posted at 4:37 PM, Aug 27, 2018

A law firm representing the family of a toddler reported to have died after being released from an immigration detention facility issued new information Monday about what it called a "needless and devastating loss."

Washington-based Arnold & Porter's statement Monday identifies the child by her first name, Mariee, and says she was 21 months old when she died in May. A Vice News story also released Monday said Mariee arrived with her mother, Yazmin Juarez, at the detention center in Dilley, Texas, in March, and died about six weeks after her release.

According to Vice News, Mariee began to develop a cough and had a fever that reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). The baby's health improved but then worsened until she and her mother were released.

The law firm released a timeline that says Juarez sought medical treatment for Mariee six days after they entered Dilley because the baby had congestion and a cough. Ten days after they arrived, Mariee had lost two pounds (almost 1 kilogram), nearly 8 percent of her body weight.

Mariee was still coughing and vomiting clear liquid two days before she and her mother were released, the law firm said.

They were released March 25 and took a flight to New Jersey, where Juarez's mother lives. The next day, they went to an emergency room, the law firm said. The baby was hospitalized over the next several weeks and eventually transferred to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

On May 10, Mariee suffered a hemorrhage that led to irreversible brain and organ damage.

Vice News reports that Juarez "watched Mariee's skin turn from purple to black," and the baby's doctors asked if they could take the child off the ventilator. She died shortly afterward.

Citing hospital records, Vice News reported the baby died of viral pneumonitis, an inflammation of lung tissue.

Reports circulated online this month of a child dying after being released from the Dilley facility, which holds hundreds of immigrant mothers and children. Initial reports that the child died at Dilley were erroneous. The law firm had refused to release information about the case for several weeks until Monday.

Advocates for immigrants have long complained about problems with accessing medical care in immigration facilities like the one at Dilley, one of two family detention centers in Texas.

Arnold & Porter blames U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detaining Mariee and her mother in a facility "with unsafe conditions." The law firm also accuses ICE of releasing a "gravely ill" child "without medical treatment or guidance," and said it was considering a lawsuit.

But Vice News says five pediatricians who reviewed details of Mariee's care say that after contracting the illness, she received treatment that was consistent with what they would have done. The story says all five doctors believed Mariee's "recommended course of treatment would have been the same had she not been in ICE custody."

"It's reasonable care," said Dr. Ewen Wang, associate director of pediatric emergency medicine at Stanford University Medical Center. "It didn't sound like she was in the best of health, but not something you anticipate dying from."

Juarez told Vice News that she decided to have Mariee buried in their native Guatemala. Her asylum case is pending.

"I wanted to live happily with her, to go to the park with her and to work hard for her," she told the news outlet. "She was everything to me, but unfortunately that didn't happen."

Texas child welfare officials have opened an investigation into the death.

ICE said in a statement that it "takes very seriously the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care."

"Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody," the agency said.