SAN ANTONIO (CN) — Yazmin Juarez and her 18-month-old daughter Mariee crossed the Rio Grande into southern Texas seeking asylum last year before finding themselves in an immigration detention facility operated by a private company. Just two months later, the girl was dead.
According to a lawsuit Juarez filed Wednesday in San Antonio federal court, Mariee died from a preventable infection that went untreated for too long by medical staff at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas, which was operated by the private prison firm CoreCivic.
The mother sued Tennessee-based CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, asserting wrongful death and negligence claims under Texas law. She is represented by lead attorney Christopher Odell with Arnold & Porter in Houston.
The complaint, which dedicates a sizable portion of its allegations toward detailing other controversies relating to CoreCivic’s treatment of its detainees at the Dilley facility and elsewhere, states in legal term much of what Juarez testified about during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing earlier this month.
“My little girl suffered horrible pain. I couldn’t even hold her to console her. As a mother, I wish I could have taken her place,” Juarez told lawmakers, via a Spanish translator, at the July 10 hearing.
If it weren’t for unsanitary conditions and improper pediatric care in the 2,400-bed detention center, and if CivicCore had responded adequately to previous complaints of “inadequate medical care,” the lawsuit says Mariee would not have died of an inflamed and collapsed lung on May 10, 2018.
According to the complaint, the mother and daughter were kept in a cell with five other mother-child pairings. A few of those children were sick, and Mariee began exhibiting the same respiratory symptoms, such as congestion and a cough, as one boy in the room.
Juarez says her daughter visited the nurses as she developed an ear infection, diarrhea and a high fever, but the medical staff’s remedies – including Tylenol, an antibiotic and Vicks VapoRub, which the manufacturer warns should not be administered to children under 2 years old – did not stem her rising fever, declining blood-oxygen level or weight loss.
After three weeks in detainment, Juarez and Mariee were flown to New Jersey for medical attention. According to the timeline outlined in the lawsuit, the toddler’s health rapidly deteriorated and she never left intensive-care units at the three hospitals that treated her. Doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia and a range of viral infections, placed her on a ventilator and considered a lung transplant.
“On the day her daughter died, Ms. Juárez left the hospital with only an ink print of Mariee’s right hand, made the day before as a Mother’s Day gift,” the complaint states.
CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist denied elements of the mother’s allegations, especially concerning the company’s standards of care.
In an email to Courthouse News, Gilchrist wrote that the Dilley facility was built “for the purpose of caring for immigrant families and providing them with a wide range of services while they await due process.”
“While we can’t speak to the specifics of pending litigation, what I can tell you is we have deep sympathy for the family and the tragic loss of their child six weeks after leaving the facility,” Gilchrist wrote. “We care about every person entrusted to us, especially vulnerable populations for which our partners rightfully have very high standards that we work hard to meet each day.”
Juarez seeks punitive damages against CoreCivic in addition to the actual damages she suffered for the pain of losing her daughter, legal fees and other expenses related to her daughter’s death.