8-year-old girl dies while in federal custody on the border

What was left of the makeshift migrant camp less than 19 hours after Title 42 ended at 9:59 p.m. local time the night before May 12 in El Paso. A group is living under the blankets that are being used to cover themselves from the sun. The camp had up to 1,000 people in recent days. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre For The Texas Tribune, Ivan Pierre Aguirre For The Texas Tribune)

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An 8-year-old child died while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Wednesday in Harlingen, according to a statement from the federal law enforcement agency.

Details about where the child was from and the cause of her death were not released as of Wednesday evening.

“The child and her family were in custody at the Harlingen Station where she experienced a medical emergency. Emergency Medical Services were called to the station and transported her to the local hospital where she was pronounced dead,” read a statement from CBP released on Wednesday.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mabel Alvarez Benedicks, the girl's mother, said her daughter was struggling to breath and walk after arriving at Harlingen Station on May 14. Alvarez Benedicks said her daughter had a history of heart problems and sickle cell anemia, and despite receiving a diagnosis of influenza prior to arriving at the border patrol station, agents denied her a request to take her daughter to a hospital by ambulance.

Alvarez Benedicks said her daughter received saline fluids, a shower and fever medication while at the border patrol station to reduce her temperature, the AP reported. Only after her daughter fell unconscious and had blood coming out of her mouth did agents call an ambulance, though Alvarez Benedicks told the AP her daughter did not have any vital signs before leaving for the hospital.

Alvarez Benedicks and her husband are Honduran. They crossed the border at Brownsville with their three children, aged 8, 12 and 14, over a week before the death of their youngest child on May 9, the AP reported. Their youngest daughter was born with congenital heart disease in Panama.

Her death comes less than a week after the emergency public health order known as Title 42 expired, which allowed migrants to be turned away during the COVID-19 pandemic without allowing them to request asylum. Some predicted the change would lead to a significant increase in the number of migrants crossing the southern border, but that hasn’t happened, according to Biden administration officials.

Ahead of the Title 42’s expiration, Gov. Greg Abbott sent hundreds of Texas National Guard soldiers to the southern border to prepare for the large groups of migrants expected to enter the United States, and border cities declared a state of emergency.

Abbott did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday evening.

"Her tragic death highlights the dire need for the U.S. government to hire child welfare professionals to ensure appropriate conditions and care for children at the border," said Jennifer Podkul, vice president of policy and advocacy of Kids in Need of Defense, a group that advocates of migrant children, in a statement. "Children and families often arrive after treacherous journeys and their health and well-being may be compromised. Children are most vulnerable and need the particular care that child protection experts provide."

In the statement, CBP said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility would conduct an investigation of the girl’s death and that the Department of Homeland Security and the Harlingen Police Department were notified.

The last time a minor died in federal custody at the border was four years ago. In May 2019, a 16-year-old from Guatemala died while in custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in a shelter in Brownsville. The previous year, two young children, who were also from Guatemala, died after law enforcement apprehended them.

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