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Child’s death in immigration custody was preventable, independent monitor concludes
Report cites 'systemic weaknesses' that could cause future harm

Child looks out a window

All children — including children seeking safety when they arrive in the United States — deserve to be treated with care and dignity. However, on May 17, 8-year-old Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez died in her mother’s arms after being detained for eight days in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody and repeatedly pleading for help and medical aid.

Anadith’s death was clearly preventable. This has been made clear by her family, and is now affirmed in an independent report prepared by an expert pediatrician, Dr. Paul Wise.

Almost a year ago, Dr. Paul Wise, Stanford pediatrician and professor, was appointed by a federal court to monitor compliance with a July 2022 agreement in the Flores case. In January, five months before Anadith’s death, Dr. Wise issued his first monitoring report to the court. His report documented several concerns regarding CBP’s medical systems and flagged areas in need of “urgent remediation.”

This week, Dr. Wise filed a second monitoring report, which included an in-depth assessment of the circumstances surrounding Anadith’s death. Dr. Wise’s report – which has been highlighted by the Associated Press, CBS, and the LA Times – “concludes that the death of this child in custody was clearly preventable.” The report states:

“Based on the currently available information, the death of [Anadith] was a preventable tragedy that resulted from a series of failures in the CBP medical and custodial systems for children…These failures occurred at multiple levels and should not be viewed as rare anomalies but rather as systemic weaknesses that if not remedied, are likely to result in future harm to children in CBP custody.”

CBP’s systems failures put countless children at risk. CBP continues to hold children and families in custody for far too long. Dr. Wise’s report indicates that more than 280 children spent six or more days in custody in May. The tragic loss of Anadith makes clear the consequences of these systems’ failures combined with children’s extended time in detention.

As told to the Associated Press, “these inexcusable systemic failures were exacerbated by just a sheer disregard for [Anadith’s] life,” said Melissa Adamson, an attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. 

Over the past 26 years, National Center for Youth Law attorneys who serve as Flores counsel have witnessed the preventable and immense suffering of children in government custody. This suffering will not end until CBP stops detaining children entirely. Until then, at a bare minimum, the government must ensure that children are not detained for more than 72 hours, without exception.