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The Death of 8-Year-Old Ana Is Tragic Reminder Why Children Do Not Belong in Detention

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Washington, DC – The death of eight-year old Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez (“Ana”) in Border Patrol custody is a terrible tragedy that puts into sharp relief why the United States should reject the notion of detaining children and families.

Reports indicate that Ana and her family were held in U.S. detention facilities for more than twice the amount of time government standards allow. Other reports highlight that the family’s persistent pleas for medical assistance were dismissed or ignored by authorities. These details underscore the larger point expressed by Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, to the New York Times: “The bottom line is you need to get families out of C.B.P. custody because the conditions generally are substandard and not appropriate for kids to be held in.”

According to Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“It is atrocious that yet another family has to mourn their child because of our collective inability to fix our broken immigration system. Our hearts are with her family, and tens of thousands of other families whose pursuit of a better life ends in tragedy. The CBP needs to learn from this tragedy and take the necessary steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. And Republicans such as Josh Hawley, who purport to care about the ‘pervasive maltreatment of migrant children’, cannot get away with simultaneously endorsing inhumane and enforcement-only policies and supporting lawsuits and legislation that eviscerate safe and orderly alternatives to a trek to the U.S. border.”

Clearly conditions for children, families and adults in custody have been a recurring problem across administrations, but there has been a particular problem with access to health care. The steps the Biden administration is taking to identify those with special health needs are welcome, but the health and safety of everyone in custody must be a top priority, especially if facilities are crowded.

Meanwhile, several Republican-driven efforts are attempting to make the chaos and inhumanity all the worse.

Ahead of Ana’s death, immigration legal and policy expert Aaron Reichlin-Melnick noted his fear that the ruling by a conservative Florida T. Kent Wetherell II to “block the new ‘parole plus conditions’ policy might lead to deaths just as happened in 2019, when children died in overcrowded Border Patrol cells.” Subsequently, Reichlin-Melnick detailed, “On Friday, May 12, the DOJ argued that Wetherell’s order blocking parole would slow releases and increase overcrowding, and thus ‘could jeopardize the health and safety’ of migrants. On Wednesday, May 17, 8-year-old Anadith died in a border cell. She’d been in custody nine days.”

Additionally, Republicans are also seeking to block or dismantle alternative pathways that help alleviate border pressures and help ensure both safety and order – including legal and legislative GOP efforts to eviscerate parole programs that help alleviate chaos and inhumanity at the border.