Sick 9-Year-Old Girl Held By Border Patrol Released
Editor's note: The original headline of this story said the detention of the minor was illegal. The interpretation of the Flores Settlement, the legal precedent in question, is being challenged in court.
UPDATE: 9:45 a.m., Oct. 15, 2019:
Lawyers for the 9-year-old girl tell KPBS the girl's mother has been taken to a hospital because of a food-borne illness she contracted while in CBP custody.
KPBS will continue to update the story.
UPDATE: 5:50 p.m., Oct. 14, 2019:
Federal authorities Monday released a sick 9-year-old girl who had been held in a San Diego County Border Patrol station for 10 days in violation of a long-standing consent decree that limits the time a minor can stay in Border Patrol custody, the girl's lawyer told KPBS.
The girl and her mother, who was also being held, contracted an illness while in custody and were not receiving medical treatment, according to a court filing submitted on Saturday.
KPBS first reported the story Monday morning. By around 5:45 p.m. the mother and daughter had been released, the girl's lawyer said. Both are now at a San Diego-area shelter and receiving medical attention.
The lawyers hope to soon have the case transferred to Maryland, where the 9-year-old’s sister also has a pending asylum application.
A 9-year-old girl — who is an asylum-seeker from El Salvador — has been kept in a San Diego County Border Patrol station for the past 10 days, violating a long-standing agreement that limits the time a minor can stay in Border Patrol custody, according to a court filing her lawyers submitted on Saturday.
Additionally, the girl is suffering from an illness she came down with while in the Border Patrol station and has not received any medical treatment, the filing states.
The court filing goes on to say that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had repeatedly sent the girl and her mother (who are not being named) back to Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a policy the Trump administration established earlier this year. The controversial policy, also known as “remain in Mexico,” has caused thousands of asylum-seekers to be returned to Mexico to wait out their asylum claims.
However, after an Oct. 4 court hearing, CBP decided not to return the mother and daughter to Mexico, the filing states. Instead, they've been kept at the station and not allowed them to meet with their lawyers.
This is a violation of the so-called Flores Settlement Agreement, a decades-old precedent that limits the time a minor can stay in Border Patrol custody to 72 hours. But the Trump administration is challenging the agreement in court and Border Patrol stations have routinely held hundreds of migrants in cramped conditions since large numbers of asylum-seekers began showing up at the southern border in the summer of 2018.
“We’re seeing this every single day,” Erika Pinheiro, an attorney for the minor, told KPBS. “It’s inexplicable how long someone will spend in one of those facilities.”
A CBP spokesperson declined to comment on the case, citing ongoing litigation.
Speaking generally about situations where the agency might hold minors longer than 72 hours, the spokesperson said the following in a written statement: “There are exceptions when a given individual may remain in CBP custody for a longer period of time for one of any number of reasons, such as the need to maintain family unity; availability of appropriate detention space in another facility; translation requirements, and more.”
Pinheiro and her colleagues say the minor and her mother first waited for months in Tijuana under the Department of Homeland Security’s “metering” system, which limits the number of asylum-seekers processed daily. After being processed in May, the two were sent back to Mexico where they had to fend off a kidnapping attempt on one of their roommates, the court filing states. People sent back to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols are routinely targeted for kidnapping.
The mother and daughter had already gone to two separate court hearings related to their case. But after the one on October 4th, their lawyers couldn’t locate them.
“The only way we knew our client was in [CBP] custody was because [the minor] called one of our lawyers,” said Pinheiro, who works for the legal services provider Al Otro Lado. “She told us everyone was getting sick in the Border Patrol station and no one was receiving medical care. It’s an obvious violation of the settlement agreement.”
The minor was last in touch with her lawyers on Friday. The filing asks that CBP remove the minor and her mother from Border Patrol custody and release them pending their court hearings.
Pinheiro told KPBS that the daughter was suffering from stomach pains and diarrhea. It’s common for migrants in custody to become sick in Border Patrol stations, according to an August report from the San Diego Rapid Response Network, which runs a shelter in downtown San Diego for people recently released from Border Patrol custody.
Of the 17,000 people the organization sheltered, 34.5% reported “issues related to hygiene, including not being able to shower, dirty bathrooms, and not having a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush their teeth, among others,” the report found.