Mother of 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody says pleas for hospital care were denied

May 20, 2023  -McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The mother of an 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody said Friday that agents repeatedly ignored pleas to hospitalize her medically fragile daughter as she felt pain in her bones, struggled to breathe and was unable to walk.

Agents said her daughter’s diagnosis of influenza did not require hospital care, Mabel Alvarez Benedicks said in an emotional phone interview. They knew the girl had a history of heart problems and sickle cell anemia.

“They killed my daughter, because she was nearly a day and a half without being able to breathe,” the mother said. “She cried and begged for her life and they ignored her. They didn’t do anything for her.

The girl died Wednesday on what her mother said was the family’s ninth day in Border Patrol custody. People are to be held no more than 72 hours under agency policy, a rule that is violated during unusually busy times.

Roderick Kise, a spokesperson for the Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, said he could not comment beyond an initial statement because the death was the subject of an open investigation. In that statement, CBP said the girl experienced “a medical emergency” at a station in Harlingen, Texas, and died later that day at a hospital.

Alvarez Benedicks, 35, said she, her husband and three children, aged 14, 12 and 8, crossed the border to Brownsville, Texas, on May 9. After a doctor diagnosed the 8-year-old, Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez, with influenza, the family was sent to the Harlingen station on May 14. It was unclear why the family was held so long.

Anadith woke up her first day in the Harlingen station with a fever and had a headache, according to her mother, who said the station was dusty and smelled of urine.

When she reported her daughter’s bone pain to an agent, she said he responded, “‘Oh, your daughter is growing up. That’s why her bones hurt. Give her water.’”

“I just looked at him,” Alvarez Benedicks said. “How would he know what to do if he’s not a doctor?”

She said a doctor told her the pain was related to influenza. She asked for an ambulance to take her daughter to the hospital for breathing difficulties but was denied.

“I felt like they didn’t believe me,” she said.

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