The American Immigration Lawyers Association confirmed reports on Wednesday that a migrant child died after being released from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Dilley, Texas.
“AILA has learned that a toddler died soon after release from the Dilley South Texas Family Residential Center,” Gregory Z. Chen, director of government relations, said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “We do not have information on the cause of death or information that confirms a connection between medical treatment at STFRC and this death.”
The allegations first surfaced Tuesday evening, when Houston-based immigration lawyer Mana Yegani tweeted that a child died “as a result of possible negligent care and a respiratory illness she contracted from one of the other children.” ThinkProgress was unable to independently verify the allegations.
AILA has not confirmed Yegani’s claims or provided any additional information about the circumstances or timing of the child’s death. It is unclear whether the toddler was one of the children separated from his or her family at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy.
“Reports that a child died in ICE custody at Dilley are false,” ICE tweeted in response to the social media backlash that resulted from Yegani’s initial tweet.
Reports that a child died in ICE custody at Dilley are false.
— ICE (@ICEgov) August 1, 2018
In a statement emailed to ThinkProgress, ICE public affairs officer Leticia Zamarripa said the agency is “looking into the report of the death after custody, but without any specifics about who this was we are unable to provide anything further at this time.”
The Dilley detention center, which opened in December 2014 and is operated by private prison company CoreCivic, is ICE’s largest family facility, with the capacity to hold up to 2,400 women and children. Many of the detained migrants are seeking asylum after fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse.
Reports of abuse and neglect have trickled out of Dilley as early as 2015. In a piece for The Marshall Project, ACLU staff attorney Carl Takei likened the facility to an “internment camp.”
Katy Murdza, advocacy coordinator with the Dilley Pro Bono Project, told ThinkProgress in an email that while the group does not have information on the cause of the child’s death, “We have, however, seen ongoing inadequacies in the standard of care provided to mothers and children in Dilley, and have filed complaints with the government raising these concerns.”
These complaints included accounts of numerous pregnant women who complained of improper medical treatment and poor nutrition in the facility.
Despite these complaints, in a 2017 report, the Department of Homeland Security declared that medical care at Dilley was “readily available, followed up on as needed, and was well documented.” The report also stated that the facility had “appropriate conditions of detention for children.”
Dilley is one of dozens of ICE detention centers that has come under fire in recent months over allegations of abuse. A June 2018 report by The Texas Tribune found that several ICE facilities licensed to care for migrant children who were separated from their parents have been cited for inhumane treatment, health and safety violations, as well as neglect and sexual and physical abuse.