Federal authorities on Wednesday disputed a claim made on social media by a Houston-based immigration lawyer that a migrant child had died in custody at a detention facility in Texas and said they were investigating whether a child died after being released.
Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an email that no child had died while in the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, outside San Antonio.
“Reports that a child died in ICE custody at Dilley are false. No child or adult has ever died at an ICE family residential center,” the email read. “Please note that the person who originally tweeted that later posted an update that retracted the original accusation. The updated accusation leaves little to no info that allows us to research.”
ICE said it was looking into reports that a girl had died after being released from custody but had no further information to provide. The Los Angeles Times has not been able to independently verify a death.
Mana Yegani, in a since-deleted tweet, wrote Tuesday night that there were reports of a child dying in ICE custody and that the whereabouts of the child’s parents were unknown.
But the lawyer later said the child died after being released and the death was a result of conditions at the facility.
Yegani wrote: “The child died following her stay at an ICE Detention Center, as a result of possible negligent care and a respiratory illness she contracted from one of the other children. The events took place in Dilley Family Detention Center in south Texas.”
The Dilley facility is the largest of ICE’s trio of family detention centers. It can hold about 2,400 people. It is managed by CCA, a private firm, on behalf of ICE.
Katy Murdza, advocacy coordinator of the Dilley Pro Bono Project, an immigrant aid group, said in an email to The Times that the organization didn’t have information on the cause of death or confirmation that it was connected with medical treatment at the facility.
“We have, however, seen ongoing inadequacies in the standard of care provided to immigrants in detention, and have filed complaints with the government raising these concerns,” she wrote.
She said the group has filed complaints with the government about conditions at the site.
The tweets by Yegani created a bit of a firestorm on social media and added more fuel to the controversy over the border enforcement policy engineered by the Trump administration that separated children from families and guardians at the border in an attempt to stop illegal immigration.
Secretly recorded audio and video of youngsters crying for their parents amid the separations of more than 2,000 children led a judge to order the administration to end the practice and reunify the families. Immigration advocates have said the separations have resulted in psychological trauma for the children and the policy was decried by watchdog groups as inhumane.
But no deaths of children while being held in ICE custody have been documented. Any such report would have undoubtedly sparked a new wave of public outcry over the detention policies.
Attempts to reach Yegani were unsuccessful. The lawyer said on Twitter that the child’s family was being represented by a Washington, D.C-based lawyer whom Yegani also identified as a family friend. Yegani tweeted that the child’s grandmother was in New Jersey.
Melissa Turcious, who identified herself as a friend of the family in an email to the Times, said she was helping coordinate legal resources and pro bono counsel.