ICE accused of denying treatment to 5-year-old with head injury


'I fear for his immediate health and safety and for his long-term health and safety,' one advocate said.

A 5-year-old boy from Guatemala who fractured his skull in an accident and suffered bleeding around his brain is not being properly treated at an immigration detention center in Texas for what could be a traumatic brain injury, family members and advocates alleged.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement defended the care given to the 5-year-old, whom the agency detained with his parents and 1-year-old brother in January, about a month after the boy fell out of a shopping cart. The children and their mother are in custody at the family detention center at Dilley, Texas, where the 5-year-old continues to have headaches and complains when he hears normal levels of sound, according to his aunt and Dr. Amy Cohen, an advocate working with the family.

ICE said Wednesday that multiple neurological exams conducted at Dilley revealed no medical issues but that the boy was hospitalized on Tuesday and Wednesday "for additional evaluation and imaging to rule out any concerns." The agency said the boy's MRI was normal and there were no signs that he had bleeding in his skull. He will soon be taken back to Dilley, ICE said.

Cohen provided the AP with records from the hospital that initially treated him after the injury. The records say the boy had an epidural hematoma, which is bleeding between his brain and skull, as well as a temporal bone fracture and a mild traumatic brain injury.

Testing done now "doesn't mean that he isn't having complications from the bleed that he did have," Cohen said.

Before they were detained during what the family thought was a routine check-in, the boy had been scheduled for an appointment with a neurologist, Cohen said. He has begun wetting himself at night, his aunt said.

The Associated Press is withholding the names of the boy and his family because they fear imminent deportation to Guatemala, where the boy's mother says she was threatened.

The mother has alleged that medical staff at Dilley told her the injury took place too long ago to be causing symptoms now, according to Cohen and the aunt. The mother is having him wear diapers intended for her younger child because he loses control of his bladder, the aunt said.

"She says they don't pay much attention to her," the aunt said. "They don't let her explain to them that my nephew's case is bad because of the accident that he had. They don't give her the chance."

The boy was hospitalized Tuesday, a day after the Associated Press first contacted ICE about the case.

In a statement, the agency said medical staff at Dilley conducted a neurological exam that "did not reveal any issues, and the child denied any dizziness or visual changes." ICE also said no medical issues were found when the boy underwent a routine exam on Jan. 23 or during a follow-up neurological exam on Jan. 27, when it says the mother reported her son "was eating and sleeping well and getting along well with peers."

A 1-year-old child was detained at Dilley before she died of a hemorrhage, according to the law firm representing her mother, Yazmin Juarez. The attorneys allege Juarez's daughter, Mariee, contracted a respiratory illness that was misdiagnosed and mistreated at Dilley.

The agency defends the medical care it provides at Dilley and its other detention centers and says medical care is available at all hours to detainees. But the Trump administration has been sharply criticized for its treatment of migrant children, including wide-scale family separations and packing families into cells well beyond their capacity with limited food and water.

At least six migrant children have died after being detained by U.S. agents since President Donald Trump took office.

"It's astonishing to me that people are continuing to tolerate the physical conditions and the cruelty that children are being subjected to in detention," said Cohen, executive director of the advocacy group Every Last One.

According to ICE, the boy's mother was apprehended in May 2019 after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. She was released and required to report to the agency monthly, but after she did not appear for an immigration court hearing in November, a judge ordered her removal from the U.S.

The woman's husband is being held at a different facility in California, according to the boy's aunt. ICE said the mother may soon be deported.

The agency says the mother did not mention her son's head injury when they were detained on Jan. 21. Cohen and the boy's aunt say the mother said she reported the injury that day.

The boy's aunt and Cohen say they're worried that his symptoms will quickly worsen.

"I fear for his immediate health and safety and for his long-term health and safety, because we know that traumatic brain injuries in children can have devastating consequences for the rest of their lives," Cohen said.