Yazmin Juarez, a Guatemalan mother of a 19-month-old girl, has filed a $60 million wrongful death claim against the federal government. Mariee C. Juarez was alleged to have been negligently treated while in the custody of detention officials. The girl is said to have become ill while detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. The facility is managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A plaintiff attorney stated that she was “healthy and happy” when she entered custody. The claim asserts that poor conditions within the facility exacerbated what may have been a minor respiratory problem.
Ms. Juarez and her daughter crossed into Texas from the Rio Grande while escaping violence in Guatemala. Border agents apprehended them and detained them at a local processing center. The claim states that they were forced to sleep on the floor close to roughly 30 other detainees. Several days later they were transported to the facility in Dilley where Mariee first began experiencing symptoms of chest congestion. The girl was given a diagnosis of having an upper respiratory infection and later an ear infection. A physician assistant treated the girl with prescription medications.
Her conditions worsened and on several occasions, Ms. Juarez claims to have been unable to see a doctor due to overcrowding. Within two weeks in custody, the girl had lost weight and was prescribed more medication. The girl next began vomiting and ended up in hospitals in Philadelphia and New Jersey where it was determined that she had pneumonia, adenovirus, and influenza. She died shortly after arriving at the second hospital. Bernard Dreyer, a medical expert, reviewed the circumstances surrounding this case. He stated that the pediatric care was “troubling” and appeared to be below the current standards.
The claim highlighted some prior complaints that accused ICE of failing to provide adequate space and to maintain pediatricians on staff. An ICE representative explained that they are unable to discuss this pending matter specifically. Jennifer Elzea of ICE stated that the organization spends in excess of $250 million each year to provide care for those detained. She further stated that ICE is committed to the “safety and welfare” of all those in custody. The agency has aggressively maintained that the conditions at the Dilley facility are safe and sanitary in the past.
ICE Health Services
Yazmin hopes that her lawsuit will ultimately lead to improved conditions within these government detention centers. ICE has a designated Health Service Corps (IHSC) that is assigned to caring for over 13,000 individuals being held in custody across 21 different facilities. In addition to medical care, they offer limited dental and mental health services. In many of the facilities the agency contracts with private companies for providing this care. When it is necessary they will also use off-site specialists and emergency services for those detained.
Claims Against the Federal Government
Government entities are typically shielded from civil injury claims under laws relating to governmental immunity. Some of the key aspects are as follows:
- The Federal Tort Claims Act was implemented in 1946, which put a process in place that allowed citizens to bring claims against the federal government under certain circumstances
- Claims are permitted when the actions of a federal employee are intentional
- The employee must have demonstrated the wrongful action while acting in their role as an employee
- In 1974 it was announced that intentional actions such as assault, battery and four other types of claims were permitted
- The tortious actions must result from the “acts or omissions” of government investigators or officers