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CBP ignored pleas for help before migrant girl’s death, parents say

Armando Garcia/ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — The parents of a migrant girl who died while in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol say personnel ignored their pleas for help.

Her family says when they entered into Border Patrol custody near Brownsville, Texas, on May 9, Anadith Reyes Álvarez was sprinting with joy when she learned they’d be going to the United States.

Anadith, an 8-year-old, had plans to be a surgeon one day, her parents said.

In an exclusive interview, Mabel Álvarez and Rossel Reyes sat down with “GMA3” and spoke out for the first time since they buried their daughter.

“She wanted to help other children that had problems,” her mother told ABC News’ Gio Benitez.

Throughout the six-month journey from Honduras, her parents tried to make her believe she was on a long vacation. They’d take her to the zoo and to the parks they passed along the way. Reyes said they took the safest routes to the United States, to keep Anadith and her older siblings safe from harm. Álvarez says the family of five’s journey to the Texas border came to a devastating end just eight days after entering border patrol custody when she died on May 17.

Álvarez says her daughter died in her arms after her repeated pleas to take her to the hospital were denied by CBP personnel.

Álvarez says she showed multiple CBP personnel medical records which she says showed Anadith had a history of sickle cell anemia and a heart condition, but felt some personnel were not interested in reviewing the documents.

“They asked me ‘what’s wrong with your daughter?’, but I responded, ‘no she’s not sick, but I don’t want her to get ill,'” Álvarez said she told CBP. “If you can’t understand me, these documents can help you understand her condition.”

CBP says Anadith complained of abdominal pain, nasal congestion, and a cough on May 14 and tested positive for influenza. Medical personnel gave Anadith flu and nausea medication and transferred the family to a Border Patrol station in Harlingen, Texas, that is used for detainees that need medical isolation or who have been exposed to communicable diseases. Her family says Anadith’s condition began to deteriorate while detained in Harlingen and that she began having trouble breathing.

Álvarez says she asked for her child to be taken to the hospital, and was told by personnel that she did not appear to be sick enough to warrant a request for an ambulance. She says she felt like medical personnel thought she was lying about how sick her child was feeling. She says Anadith told the staff “I can’t breathe from my mouth or my nose.”

“They told me with some authority that the baby was fine. I kept looking at her and said that she wasn’t fine,” Alvarez said.

An ongoing investigation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility shows that between May 14 and May 17 “medical personnel reported having approximately nine encounters with the girl and her mother, who complained of fever, flu-like symptoms, and pain.”

On May 16, she had a fever of 104.9 degrees, CBP’s preliminary review said. Personnel treated her with ice packs, fever reducing medications and a cold shower, CBP said.

“Despite the girl’s condition, her mother’s concerns, and the series of treatments required to manage her condition, contracted medical personnel did not transfer her to a hospital for higher-level care,” CBP said in a statement.

A nurse practitioner “reported denying three or four requests from the girl’s mother for an ambulance to be called or for her to be taken to the hospital,” according to CBP.

Álvarez says that as she returned to the area where she was detained after asking again for her daughter to be taken to the hospital, Anadith appeared to go limp. Reyes says he believes she took her last breath as she made eye contact with him through the window in the holding area.

“I took a few steps and the girl died in my arms because I was carrying her. My daughter died,” Álvarez said.

The OPR review says that by 1:55 PM on May 17, Anadith “appeared to be having a seizure” and became unresponsive and an ambulance was called. Medical personnel “initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation aided by an automated external defibrillator, which did not recommend any defibrillation,” OPR said. Doctors at the Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen declared her deceased at 2:50 P.M.

OPR’s review says no medical personnel or Border Patrol personnel at Harlingen Station that interacted with Anadith or that her mother “acknowledged being aware she suffered from sickle cell anemia or had a history of congenital heart disease.”

“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,” CBP said.

The preliminary investigation also found a nurse practitioner had “declined” to review a “pile of documents” that were in the family’s possession, but gave the girl a folic acid tablet upon her mother’s request.

CBP has since barred some of the medical providers involved in this incident from working at CBP facilities, the agency announced.

“She told every official, every person she came into contact with, everyone that may have listened to her about her daughter’s health history, including offering to share the actual medical records that she had with her and she was ignored,” said Kassandra Gonzales, Staff Attorney at Texas Civil Rights Project.

A CBP official told ABC News the agency’s top medical officer, Dr. David Tarantino, has been temporarily reassigned, but did not disclose what his new roles would be.

CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement that the agency has brought in new leadership to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer “to drive necessary action across the agency.”

“The death of eight-year-old Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez was a deeply upsetting and unacceptable tragedy. While we cannot change the tragic outcome in this situation, as an agency, we must and will do better to ensure that this does not happen again,” he said in a statement to ABC News.

Miller also said that the agency “has undertaken significant steps to address deficiencies identified by the ongoing investigation, as well as to ensure that medically fragile individuals and family units receive the best possible care and spend the minimum amount of time possible in CBP custody.”

OPR said records indicated here was an outage of the camera surveillance system at Harlingen Station during the time of the incident and that it was not reported to them as required.

Álvarez believes she was treated poorly, in part, because she is Black.

“I feel that since I got there they discriminated against me because of my skin tone and because I am an immigrant,” she said.

Guerline Jozef, the executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, says the treatment the family endured follows a pattern of abuse against Black immigrants

“The root causes of many systems that we have is rooted in anti-Black racism and at the border it’s not different,” Jozef said. “We need to be able to welcome people with dignity, with compassion, and specifically when they are extremely vulnerable, like little Anadith.”

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