HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — The lawyer for the family of an 8-year-old Panamanian girl who died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody at a processing facility in this South Texas border town says the U.S. government is trying to “divert responsibility” away from her death by placing blame on contract medical personnel.

Meanwhile, the acting head of CBP has offered apologies and says an agency-wide review of CBP processing facilities is underway to prevent future injuries or deaths of vulnerable asylum seekers.

Karla Vargas, a lawyer with the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP,) said Friday the organization is representing the family of Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez who died May 17 in custody at the CBP Harlingen processing facility, after the girl and her family were held 9 days by CBP officers after crossing from Matamoros, Mexico, into Brownsville, Texas.

Karla Vargas is a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project. She is seen in 2019 at the CBP processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

On Friday, Vargas reacted to a CBP internal investigation report that blames contracted medical workers for failing to send Anadith to the hospital sooner, despite repeated requests from her mother. CBP says a contracted nurse practitioner four times denied requests from Anadith’s mother to transport the girl via an ambulance to the hospital. The practitioner also never called the on-call doctor, the report said.

“The U.S. government is trying to divert responsibility for this little girl’s death away from their own deadly neglect,” Vargas said. “This is not the first time this has happened, and unless Biden orders CBP to stop detaining children in all forms, it will keep happening.”

Report: Contract medical workers ‘failed’

The report released late Thursday by the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR,) which is investigating the incident, said “Contracted medical personnel did not consult with on-call physicians (including an on-call pediatrician) about the girl’s condition, symptoms, or treatment. The contracted medical personnel failed to document numerous medical encounters, emergency antipyretic interventions and administrations of medicine.”

Anadith was being treated for a high temperature and the flu at the time of her death. But she also had sickle cell anemia and a history of congenital heart disease, of which the OPR report said none of the contracted medical personnel or U.S. Border Patrol personnel at the facility were aware.

But TCRP said in a statement that “Anadith’s mother told every official she came into contact with about her daughter’s history — including offering to share medical history documents with CBP and medical staff. The statement fails to document important inconsistencies and shows a clear lack of documentation and real accountability.”

Vargas said: “Anadith’s parents came to this country seeking what most of us want for our children — safety, opportunity, and the chance at a better future, but instead they were met with tragedy. To add to their suffering and righteous anger, through this statement, the U.S. government is trying to divert responsibility for this little girl’s death away from their own deadly neglect.”

The U.S. government is trying to divert responsibility for this little girl’s death away from their own deadly neglect.”

Karla Vargas, Texas Civil Rights Project lawyer

Autopsy request

TCRP has joined with the Haitian Bridge Alliance to advocate for the family. Both organizations are requesting an autopsy in order to determine the cause of death.

“During this time of profound loss, it is paramount that we continue to fight for justice for Anadith and her family and all people seeking protection,” Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said in a statement.

“Ana’s death could have been prevented if her and her mother’s cries for medical attention were not dismissed while in CBP custody,” Jozef said. “No mother should have to go through this immense pain.”

According to the OPR report, “despite the girl’s condition, her mother’s concerns, and the series of treatments required to manage her condition, contract medical personnel did not transfer her to a hospital for higher level care.”

CBP-wide facility review

Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller issued a statement calling Anadith’s death “a deeply upsetting and unacceptable tragedy. We can — and we will — do better to ensure this never happens again.”

Miller said that DHS’s Chief Medical Officers are evaluating medical care practices and procedures at CBP facilities. “Upon completion of that evaluation, we will assess and implement associated recommendations, including by ensuring the deployment of additional medical personnel as needed.”

Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez, 8, of Panama, died May 17 at this CBP processing facility in Harlingen, Texas, after being held for 9 days. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Miller says after Anadith’s death CBP was directed to review “all medically fragile individuals and family units in custody to ensure we appropriately prioritize processing for those individuals to minimize the amount of time they spend in our custody.” He says this has cut by half the amount of time family units now are spending in custody, compared to two weeks ago.

Starting Monday, Miller says DHS will deploy Public Health Service uniformed clinicians to multiple CBP sites to inspect facilities and patient care. They will work under the agency’s Office of Health Security.

In addition, all medical contractors working at CBP facilities must “review their practices and address deficiencies immediately,” Miller said.

Closed-circuit TVs fixed

The closed-circuit television at the Harlingen facility, which had been broken since April 13, and did not record the family’s interactions at the facility, was fixed on May 23, CBP said.

Miller said he has also ordered a system-wide inspection of all closed-circuit television equipment at CBP processing facilities.