ELOY — The mother of a toddler who died earlier this year after she was detained at an immigration detention facility has filed a claim seeking $40 million in damages from the city.
Lawyers representing Yazmin Juarez filed a notice Tuesday, accusing Eloy officials of not properly supervising the operators of a detention center in Texas.
The city has an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under which it acts as a middleman with CoreCivic, a private prison company that operates multiple facilities in Eloy.
ICE modified its contract with Eloy in 2014 to include a new facility being built in south Texas.
Juarez and her daughter, Mariee, were taken to that detention facility in March after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the claim filed by Juarez’s attorneys, staff at the facility observed Mariee to be healthy upon arrival.
Then the mother and daughter allegedly were placed in a room with five other families, some with sick children. Mariee quickly contracted a respiratory infection and spiked a fever of 104 degrees.
Juarez alleges she sought medical attention multiple times for her daughter but claims she was often left waiting for many hours or forced to reschedule her appointment. She was given medicine later on, but the toddler’s health didn’t improve in the coming days.
A nurse made a referral for Mariee to see a medical provider but Juarez alleges her daughter never saw another doctor before they left the Texas facility.
Juarez and Mariee were put on a plane to New Jersey and the toddler’s health remained “dire.” Mariee was taken to an emergency room and doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia.
Her condition steadily worsened and Mariee died on May 10, a couple months before her second birthday.
“On the day of her daughter’s death, Ms. Juarez left the hospital with only an ink print of Mariee’s right hand, made the previous day as a Mother’s Day gift,” the notice of claim reads.
Juarez’s attorneys claim they will take legal action against the several entities involved in running the Texas facility. The attorneys will argue Eloy failed to ensure adequate health care was being provided for detained families.
Amanda Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic, pointed out ICE is responsible for providing medical care at the Texas center. So CoreCivic staff are not involved in making medical decisions, she noted.
Though Eloy is located 900 miles away from south Texas, ICE still went to the city in 2014 with help in building its new detention facility.
An ICE spokesman told National Public Radio in 2014 this unusual arrangement between Eloy and ICE was “a creative response to a difficult situation.”
When thousands of unaccompanied children were caught trying to cross the border in the summer of 2014, CoreCivic submitted a proposal to ICE to build a new facility for the flood of migrants. The Eloy City Council passed a resolution to accommodate millions of dollars in pass-through funds that’s exchanged between ICE and CoreCivic to run two facilities: one in Eloy and the other in Texas.
Eloy City Manager Harvey Krauss has previously called the resolution a “purely financial arrangement.” The city would annually collect $438,000 for acting as a fiscal agent.
An audit done by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General earlier this year concluded Eloy was serving as an “unnecessary middleman.”
Krauss told PinalCentral the city’s arrangement remains in place and it would be up to the other parties to change it. The city entered into this deal in “good faith,” he added, with the expectation that Eloy wouldn’t be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Texas center.
Back in 2014, the city manager told NPR the city would be held “totally harmless with no liability for the operations” at the Texas facility.
A spokesman for ICE declined comment on Juarez’s claim because the litigation is pending.
In years past, activists have protested outside the Texas detention center, calling for it to be shut down.