A court watcher warned of medical care problems at border patrol posts ahead of the girl’s death

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A court-appointed monitor said in January that migrant children detained in medical isolation could be neglected when Border Patrol stations were too crowded, a warning issued five months before an 8-year-old girl suffering from of heart disease. died in custody during an unusually busy time in the same area of ​​Texas he inspected.

Dr. Paul H. Wise, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, called the death of Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez of Panama “preventable” during an interview this week while in the Valley of the Rio Grande in Texas to examine the circumstances.

“Any sick child, but especially children with chronic conditions, should not be hesitated to refer them to local hospitals, preferably a children’s hospital or a hospital with good pediatric capacity,” Wise told the Associated Press.

US Customs and Border Protection have acknowledged that the girl was seen at least three times by medical personnel on the day of her death – complaining of vomiting, stomach pains and suffering from what appeared to be a crisis – before being taken to the hospital. CBP did not respond to a request for comment on Wise’s January report or his latest comments.

Wise wrote a lengthy report in January on Border Patrol child care conditions in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, Texas, which gave satisfactory reviews on many counts, but also pointed to serious concerns. Last year, a federal judge asked him to review detention conditions in the two busy areas as part of a 1997 court settlement aimed at ensuring the safe treatment of migrant children.

Wise plans to submit a report soon on the May 17 death of the girl, who died on the ninth day in police custody after being transferred to a station in Harlingen, Texas, with her family after being diagnosed with the flu. . The agency limits custody to 72 hours according to its own policy.

Although his conclusions are not yet known – he declined to discuss them – some of his earlier warnings may resurface.

Wise has previously expressed concern about the overcrowding of children in medical isolation. Its January report recounts how “a medical team” in El Paso was responsible for 125 sick patients, a number that “far exceeds” the team’s capabilities.

Border Patrol also struggled to meet the requirement to conduct regular medical evaluations of children when they came with families and were at crowded train stations, Wise said in January.

“The 5-day repeat medical assessment is most important when families are held for long periods in crowded conditions,” he wrote. “However, due to other significant demands on available medical personnel, this medical protocol appears to be of relatively low priority under these conditions.”

Wise further raised concerns about undetected chronic illnesses and “relevant medical information” not being known or shared among staff.

CBP’s relatively detailed public account of the girl’s time in police custody does not directly address the requirement for exams every five days or the overcrowding at Harlingen station while she was there.

Government responsibilities for medical care of children are clearly defined in the recently updated agreement for the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley areas. “CBP will promptly activate the 911 system or refer minors to the local health care system, as appropriate, for evaluation and treatment. In addition, CBP will refer minors with urgent or emerging medical conditions to the local health care system,” the agreement states.

During her visit, Wise interviewed Anadith’s mother, Mabel Alvarez Benedicks, who told the AP that officers repeatedly ignored her medically fragile daughter’s requests for hospitalization because she was experiencing pain in her neck. bones, had difficulty breathing and was unable to walk.

Officers said her daughter’s flu diagnosis did not require hospital care, Benedicks said. They knew the girl had a history of heart problems but were told to come back if she fainted, the mother said.

Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller has since ordered a review of all medically fragile detainees to ensure limited detention time. Wise said he spoke with US officials, including medical personnel, to raise concerns about his recent visit.

“I have enough information at this point to make urgent recommendations to CBP (the Department of Homeland Security) and to the court. And that will be focused on the steps that I believe should be taken to ensure that no preventable deaths occur in children in CBP custody,” he said.

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