Some immigrant rights advocates are calling the Biden administration’s border and asylum policies “a system of death” after an 8-year-old migrant girl died May 17 while in American custody at the U.S.-Mexico border.
That was the label Hope Border Institute used in an email newsletter mourning the death of Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez, a Panamanian with a history of heart problems who was being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection with her asylum-seeking parents when she died.
“Her family had been detained by CBP for nine days, which is well beyond the 72 hours that are allowed under official policy,” the institute said in its May 23 “Frontera Dispatch” from the border.
Authorities ignored the mother’s requests to hospitalize the girl.
Authorities ignored the mother’s requests to hospitalize the girl even after she felt pain in her bones, struggled to breathe and walk and was vomiting frequently. “In what was her third visit to the medic center at the station, she became unresponsive and soon after passed away at a local hospital.”
CNN reported the death occurred at the border patrol station in Harlingen, Texas, where migrants with medical challenges are typically held. The girl’s death occurred after a 17-year-old immigrant and epileptic died in U.S. care in Florida.
“These deaths were the result of the ongoing systemic failure to protect families and children as we continue to detain and criminalize those seeking protection,” the institute said. “A cruel reminder that no matter how much politicians claim to create a humane and dignified system of migration, people will continue to die in our current reality.”
That sentiment reached a crescendo with the May 11 expiration of Title 42, which had allowed the U.S. to deport asylum seekers to Mexico or their home countries without due process. It was replaced by a new White House policy effectively banning asylum by requiring migrants to apply using a faulty phone app or by first seeking formal refuge in other nations enroute to the U.S.
Immigration advocates have blasted the new rule for emulating Title 42 in forcing asylum seekers to wait in squalid and crime-ridden areas in Mexico for hearings in the U.S., and for eviscerating longstanding federal and international laws guaranteeing persecuted migrants the right to obtain safety in the United States.
Legal experts and activists have even called Biden a worse offender than his predecessor. Immigration attorney Priscilla Orta said the practice of speedily admitting migrants with serious health concerns has recently stopped under Biden.
“During the leadup to the ending of Title 42, advocates, including myself, specifically and profusely asked in every meeting, ‘Will this safety valve continue? Will this process be allowed?’ And each and every time we were told yes. Until yesterday (May 17). Yesterday, our local officials informed me specifically that they no longer have guidance from Washington, D.C.” to continue the practice, said Orta, an attorney with Lawyers for Good Government.
But U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a statement May 21 saying the agency takes seriously the well-being of migrants in its custody and that it is investigating the circumstances of Anadith’s death.
“The health and safety of individuals in our custody, our workforce and communities we serve is paramount. To that end, we must ensure that medically fragile individuals receive the best possible care and spend the minimum amount of time possible in CBP custody,” Acting Director Troy Miller said.
Miller added that he also has directed a review of existing procedures to ensure appropriate care is provided to “medically fragile individuals” in CBP detention. “Over the past two years, we have added more than 1,000 medical contractors to provide care in our facilities. We will look to the results of this investigation for additional steps to further improve medical care, as needed.”
Immigration advocates, however, say the flaws of the system are plain enough already.
“Anadith’s death reveals several failures in our asylum and immigration systems. … The campaign demands a thorough, timely, transparent and clear investigation of Anadith’s death. It’s 2023. Kids shouldn’t be dying in government custody,” said Welcome with Dignity interim campaign manager Bilal Askaryar.
“It is tragic that the systemic problems with the U.S. Border Patrol’s inhumane holding facilities have claimed another life, this time, of 8-year-old Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez,” said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program. “Border Patrol cannot care for children, especially when there are little oversight mechanisms to hold them accountable. We mourn Anadith’s senseless death and call on the Biden administration and Congress to recommit to respecting asylum laws and to move children and their families away from detention.”
Laura St. John, legal director at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, said she was infuriated by Anadith’s death in custody.
“It is cruel and inhumane to jail children, and it is unfathomable that in a country like the United States children and families seeking safety are treated this way,” St. John said. “This administration has chosen to turn its back on people seeking safety to disastrous results. We demand a full investigation into this horrific tragedy and call on the Biden administration to stop detaining children and their families.”
Ronnate Asirwatham, director of government relations for the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, called on the White House to intervene.
“It is cruel that another set of parents had to beg the CBP for medical help for their child and then watch her die because of CBP negligence. We call on the Biden administration to end this cruelty and to swiftly end the practice of long term CBP custody for immigrants.”