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Mother of 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody says pleas for hospital care were rejected


McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The mother of an 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody said Friday that officers repeatedly ignored pleas to hospitalize her medically fragile daughter because she felt pain in her bones, difficulty had to breathe and was unable to walk.

Agents said her daughter’s diagnosis of flu did not require hospital care, Mabel Alvarez Benedicks said in an emotional telephone interview. They knew the girl had heart problems and sickle cell anemia.

“They killed my daughter because she couldn’t breathe for almost a day and a half,” the mother said. “She cried and begged for her life and they ignored her. They have done nothing for her.

The girl died on Wednesday on what her mother said was the ninth day the family had been in Border Patrol custody. People should not be held for more than 72 hours under the agency’s policy, a rule that is broken during unusually busy times.

The account will almost certainly raise questions about whether Border Patrol handled the situation properly, the second child fatality in two weeks following a rush of illegal border crossings with shelter facilities heavily strained.

Roderick Kise, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s parent company, Customs and Border Protection, said he could not go beyond an initial statement because the death was the subject of an open investigation. In that statement, CBP said the girl had “a medical emergency” at a station in Harlingen, Texas, and died at a hospital later that day.

Alvarez Benedicks, 35, said she, her husband and three children, ages 14, 12 and 8, crossed the border into Brownsville, Texas, on May 9. flu, the family was sent to Harlingen station on May 14. It was unclear why the family was detained for so long.

Anadith woke up her first day at Harlingen station with a fever and headache, according to her mother, who said the station was dusty and reeked of urine.

When she reported her daughter’s bone pain to an officer, she said he replied, “Oh, your daughter is growing up. That’s why her bones hurt. Give her water.’”

“I just looked at him,” said Alvarez Benedicks. “How would he know what to do if he’s not a doctor?”

She said a doctor told her the pain was related to the flu. She requested an ambulance to take her daughter to hospital due to breathing difficulties, but was refused.

“I felt like they didn’t believe me,” she said.

Anadith was given saline, a douche and fever medication to lower her temperature, but her breathing problems persisted, her mother said, adding that a sore throat prevented her from eating and stopped walking.

At one point, a doctor asked the parents to come back if Anadith passed out, Alvarez Benedicks said. Their request for an ambulance was again denied when her blood pressure was checked on Wednesday.

An ambulance was called later that day after Anadith went limp and unconscious and was bleeding from her mouth, her mother said. She insists her daughter had no vital signs at the Border Patrol station before leaving for the hospital.

The family is staying at a migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas, and is seeking funds to take their daughter’s remains to New York City, their final destination in the US.

Anadith, whose parents are Honduran, was born in Panama with a congenital heart condition. Three years ago, she had an operation that her mother says was successful. It inspired Anadith to want to become a doctor.

Her death came a week after a 17-year-old Honduran boy, Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza, died in the custody of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. He was traveling alone.

A rush to the border before pandemic-related asylum limits, known as Title 42, expired created extraordinary pressure. Border patrol detained an average of 10,100 people a day for four days last week, compared to a daily average of 5,200 in March.

The border patrol had 28,717 people in custody as of May 10, a day before pandemic asylum restrictions expired, which was double the amount of two weeks earlier, according to a court filing. On Sunday, the number of guardianships fell 23% to 22,259, still at an all-time high.

The shelter capacity is about 17,000, according to a government document last year, and the administration has added temporary giant tents, such as one in San Diego that opened in January and can hold about 500 people.

On Sunday, the average time in custody was 77 hours.


Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.