How many times do doctors have to see an 8-year-old girl who has medical conditions and complains before they admit her? Three, four, six times? How much does she have to suffer before they finally listen to her? Well, in the case of Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, 11 times. Yes, the Panamanian girl was checked no less than 11 times until finally the doctors (can they be defined as “doctors”?) decided to call an ambulance and take her to a hospital. But in the end, it was already too late.
The case is very serious because Anadith was not free, but was detained in facilities of the United States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for a whole week.
An investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, determined that the girl should not have been detained for so long, especially considering that CBP’s standard for these cases is not to exceed 3 days.
The family was detained in Brownsville, Texas, on May 9th as part of a group of 42 migrants who turned themselves in to border authorities. In other words, two days before Title 42 ceased to be in force. A regulatory measure, originally implemented by the Trump Administration, and later maintained by Joe Biden, which allowed border authorities to deny asylum to migrants based on the health crisis that had caused the pandemic.
For this reason, many migrants, faced with rumors that immigration policies would change, tried to cross the border before the May 11 deadline. And in those days when Anadith’s family decided to cross, the number of entries into the country broke records and reached 10,000 entries per day. Consequently, the detention centers could not cope.
It should be noted that the girl, born in Panama but of Honduran parents, had medical conditions that put her at risk. Not only did she have heart surgery when she was five years old, but Anadith also had sickle cell anemia. Although the family had provided this information to authorities when they were processed at the Border Patrol station in Donna, Texas, all of the doctors who treated her claimed, during the investigation, that they did not know of her condition.
They did not know? What database system do they have that does not make it easier for doctors to access their patients’ information? Or rather, what kind of doctors are these who don’t seem interested in finding out the medical history of their patients?
Responsibility and consequences
The authorities reacted. Officials affirmed that migrants with medical conditions will be given priority. And the Department of Health and Human Services has promised to send doctors from the Public Health Service to key points along the border.
Troy Miller, acting Commissioner of the Border Patrol, assured that «several medical providers involved in this incident have now been prohibited from working at Border Patrol facilities.»
«Prohibited from working»? Just banned? Is that what the life of an 8-year-old girl is worth? Are there no more legal consequences? Criminal liability?
After all, Anadith and her family were on their way to fulfilling their dreams of a better life in the País del Norte. Nothing more and nothing less than another family escaping the economic misery and insecurity that exists in different regions of the world. And while the United States like any other sovereign country has the right to control its borders, it must do so in a humanitarian manner and in accordance with international treaties and current domestic laws.
Migrants who are detained and are in the custody of the Border Patrol, or any other government agency, have not lost their human rights. They are simply temporarily detained by authorities in order to be processed in the very complex immigration system. They are men, women and children who must be protected by the government and, fundamentally, prioritize their physical safety. Something that did not happen in Anadith’s case.
According to what was documented in the investigation, between the night of May 14 and the afternoon of May 17, doctors at the detention center in Harligen, Texas, saw Anadith 9 times. None, absolutely none, bothered to call the pediatrician on duty who could have been consulted about the symptoms the 8 year old was experiencing.
A nurse practitioner who checked on Anadith told investigators that she refused to call an ambulance despite her mother insisting no less than three times.
Finally, the day the girl passed away, doctors saw her four times, including when she had a fever of 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit. It did not occur to anyone to transfer her to the emergency room, until the desperate mother came, for the fifth time, but now carrying the girl in her arms who was experiencing convulsions.
Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez died at a hospital.
«They killed my daughter, because she spent a day and a half without being able to breathe,» said Mabel Álvarez, the girl’s mother.
This act cannot and must not go unpunished. In the best of cases, it can be interpreted as professional irresponsibility; at worst, the product of a series of criminal acts. The intervening doctors, beyond administrative consequences, must respond judicially; the authorities of the detention centers where the events occurred must be disciplined. The life of a migrant girl of only 8 years should be worth as much as the life of any other human being in the nation of Jefferson and Hamilton, where the inalienable right to life and security of all people was established in founding documents.
This article was supported in whole or in part by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.
Néstor M. Fantini , M.A., Ph.D. (ABD), es un periodista, educador y activista de derechos humanos argentino-estadounidense que reside en California. Desde 2018, Fantini es coeditor de la revista online HispanicLA.com. Entre 2005 y 2015 fue el coordinador principal de la Peña Literaria La Luciérnaga. Es autor de De mi abuela, soldados y Arminda (2015), sus cuentos aparecen en Mirando hacia el sur (1997) y es coeditor de la Antología de La Luciérnaga (2010). Actualmente es profesor adjunto de la cátedra de Introduction to Criminology, en Rio Hondo College, Whittier, California, y de Social Issues in American Society, en AMDA College of the Performing Arts, Hollywood, California. Como refugiado y ex prisionero político que fuera adoptado como Prisionero de Conciencia por Amnistía Internacional, Fantini ha dedicado su vida a promover la memoria de las víctimas del terrorismo de estado de la dictadura cívico-militar argentina de la década de 1970 y actualmente es coordinador de Amnesty International San Fernando Valley. Fantini se graduó de Woodsworth College y de la Universidad de Toronto.