Death of a child after ICE custody sparks protest at NJ detention center

About 100 protesters carrying tea lights gathered in front of the immigrant detention center in Elizabeth to demand justice for a Guatemalan toddler they had never met.

“What country do we live in, that a baby — a baby fleeing violence with her mother — seeking asylum in our country, that this baby ends up dead?” asked Sara Cullinane, the state director of Make the Road New Jersey.

Mariee Juarez died at a hospital in New Jersey after being released with her mother, Jazmin, from an ICE detention center in Texas this March. Together, they had crossed the southern border, seeking asylum, but got locked up. Within a week, Mariee got very sick.

“She ran a fever of 104 degrees and still she was not brought to the hospital,” Cullinane said. “She was put on a plane, and arrived here to reunite with her family in New Jersey and was almost immediately taken to the hospital.”

Mariee died of a raging bronchial infection and hemorrhage with her mother at her side. CoreCivic, a private company contracted to operate the center in Elizabeth, also runs the Texas center that detained Mariee and her mom. In a letter, their family has announced it intends to sue for “negligent supervision” and “wrongful death,” charging “… Mariee’s tragic death resulted from the unsafe and unsanitary conditions in immigration detention at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the inadequate, substandard medical care Mariee received there.”

“This is a dysfunctional system where people’s lives don’t matter, where children’s lives don’t matter,” said Sally Pillay, program director at First Friends of NJ/NY. “No human being should be locked up in ICE custody and not have proper medical care, as we continuously see.”

In a statement, CoreCivic said: “… CoreCivic does not provide medical or mental healthcare services or staffing at STFRC. The federal government’s ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) is solely responsible for contracting, staffing and oversight of any medical and mental health services …”

ICE had no comment because of pending litigation.

“It is our responsibility to fight for justice and to fight for Mariee. We are here to support her and we are here to fight for her because she is no longer here. Her mom needs so much support right now,”said Rosa Huitzitzilin, a community organizer at Make the Road New Jersey.

Protesters wrote notes of sympathy and encouragement for Mariee’s family and tacked them up to cards they’ll send to her mom.

Mariee died on Mother’s Day. Her mom is still with family in New Jersey. She’s applied for asylum.