Texas opens investigation of reported immigrant child death

Dilley facility

A playground surrounded by cottages that will house immigrants at a new family immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas, on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. Opening following a summer surge of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, the compound features cottages and will have an initial capacity of 480 growing to 2,400 around May _making it […]

AUSTIN (AP) — Texas child welfare officials Thursday opened an abuse and neglect investigation into reports that surfaced last week of a child dying after being released from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility.

The announcement came shortly after Texas officials appeared frustrated during a public hearing with lawmakers, saying immigration attorneys making the allegations had still not provided the child’s name and were being unresponsive. Hours later, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it was given the name needed to launch an inquiry.

It becomes the 52nd child abuse and neglect investigation at a Texas facility housing immigrant children since December. None of the roughly 40 completed so far have been substantiated by state child welfare investigators, and the others remain ongoing.

Reports of a child dying after leaving an ICE family detention center in Dilley, Texas, had been widely shared on social media and inflamed the debate over immigration and the Trump administration’s crackdown at the border. But details have been sparse, and both Texas and ICE had said they needed a name and specifics to fully look into the reports.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it finally received a name after the agency’s commissioner, Hank Whitman, made a public plea Thursday morning to attorneys for the family during a Texas House committee meeting.

“If he’s saying a child has been injured or died from injuries in there,” Whitman said, “I’m going to put my law enforcement hat on right now. I need to know the name of that child so we can investigate that thoroughly.”

The family is being represented by the Washington-based law firm Arnold & Porter. The firm said in a statement after the hearing that it provided requested information and was “cooperating fully” with Texas child welfare investigators.

No other details about the case were provided with the announcement. The law firm said earlier this week that a small child died “after being detained by ICE in unsanitary conditions” at Dilley. It has not elaborated, and ICE officials Thursday disputed the characterization that the 2,400-bed facility was dirty.

“It’s a clean facility,” said Daniel Bible, field office director for ICE’s San Antonio sector, which includes Dilley. “Everything is cleaned and reviewed. We have people on site daily that go through to make sure that sanitary conditions are kept, even with hygiene with people, we have case managers that talk to people that make sure that they themselves are keeping clean.”

Texas issues child-care licenses to immigrant detention facility that house children. State officials said they do not have the discretion to deny licenses for new facilities if the operators meet the requirements.


Associated Press Writer Will Weissert in Dilley, Texas, contributed to this report.

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