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The mother of an 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody says pleas for hospital care were denied

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The mother of an 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody said Friday that agents repeatedly ignored pleas to hospitalize her medically fragile daughter because she was experiencing bone pain, struggling to breathe and could not walk.

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

“My daughter was killed, because she spent almost a day and a half without being able to breathe,” said the mother. “She cried and begged for her life and they ignored her. They did nothing for her.

The girl died Wednesday in what her mother said was the family’s ninth day in Border Patrol custody. People must be held no longer than 72 hours per agency policy, a rule that is violated during unusually busy times.

The account is almost certain to raise questions about whether Border Patrol adequately handled the situation, the second death of a migrant child in two weeks in US government custody.

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

“No parent should have to beg for their child to receive basic medical care and be forced to watch their child’s health deteriorate to the point where they cannot be saved,” said Jennifer Nagda, director of programs for the nonprofit organization for-profit Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. she said in a statement on Saturday.

Nagda urged the Biden administration to create “welcome centers” at the border where immigration officials can process asylum-seeking families with children, while non-government groups can offer food, clothing and medical care.

“The only way to stop these preventable deaths is to stop imprisoning families. To stop imprisoning children,” Nagda said.

Alvarez Benedicks, 35, said she, her husband and their three children, ages 14, 12 and 8, crossed the border into Brownsville, Texas, on May 9. After 8-year-old Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez was diagnosed with influenza by a doctor, the family was sent to the Harlingen station on May 14. It was not clear why the family was held for so long.

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

When she told an officer about her daughter’s bone pain, she said he responded, “Oh, your daughter is growing. That’s why your bones ache. Give him water.’”

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

She said a doctor told her the pain was flu-related. She asked for an ambulance to take her daughter to the hospital for breathing difficulties, but was denied.

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

Anadith received saline fluids, a shower and fever medication to bring her temperature down, but her breathing problems persisted, her mother said, adding that a sore throat was preventing her from eating and she stopped walking.

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

An ambulance was called later that day after Anadith was knocked unconscious with blood coming from her mouth, her mother said. She insists that her daughter had no vital signs at the Border Patrol station before she went to the hospital.

The family is staying at a migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas, and is looking for money to bring their daughter’s remains to New York City, their final destination in the US.

Anadith, of Honduran parents, was born in Panama with congenital heart disease. She received surgery three years ago that her mother characterized as successful. She inspired Anadith to want to be a doctor.

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

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

Border Patrol had 28,717 people in custody on May 10, one day before pandemic asylum restrictions expired, double the number two weeks earlier, according to a court filing. By Sunday, the custody count fell 23% to 22,259, still historically high.

Custodial capacity is about 17,000 people, according to a government document from last year, and the administration has been adding temporary giant tents like one in San Diego that opened in January with space for 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.

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