Opinion: Seven Children Have Died In Immigration Custody. Remember Their Names.

One year ago, 10-year-old Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle died after months in custody. There are six more like her.

Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle only wanted to be with her mom. She had the courage to move from her small hometown in El Salvador, joining family friends who would reunite her with her mother in the United States.

Darlyn’s mother had sought freedom and opportunity when she moved to the US nine years before. They were finally going to be a family again. But when Darlyn got to Texas, instead of bringing her to her waiting mother, the Trump administration threw her in custody for seven months. Sunday was the one-year anniversary of her death. She was 10.

Her mother begged authorities to reunite her with her daughter, whose heart condition was worsening in detention, but she was denied access for months. Surrounded by strangers, Darlyn was bounced from hospital to hospital as her condition deteriorated, and still immigration officials ignored her mother’s pleas. Only as Darlyn lay in a coma, dying, was she transferred to a hospital close to her mother. She died three days later.

She is not the only child to die in US immigration custody. Seven children have died after being taken into immigration custody under the Trump administration — those are the cases that we know of. Officials hid Darlyn’s death from the public and Congress for nearly eight months.

In theory, protections are in place for kids like Darlyn, who are detained in immigration facilities. But under this administration, for the first time in a decade, kids have started to die in US detention camps.

It is illegal to hold a child for more than 72 hours in Border Patrol stations, and they are guaranteed basic necessities. In reality, these children are being held for weeks or months in facilities that are not only inappropriate for children, but dangerous for them as well.

Hope Frye, an immigration attorney who leads inspections of detention facilities, was visiting a detention camp in the Rio Grande Valley when she came across a mother hunched over in a wheelchair holding a bundle. She was horrified when she got closer: The mother was clutching her premature baby, who was wrapped in a dirty cloth, and trying to keep her warm.

That scene is not an anomaly. Attorneys and doctors have reported that children of all ages are being jailed without diapers, left in soiled clothing and without access to showers, toothbrushes, or even adequate water and food.

Inflicting this pain and suffering is cruel, and it is intentional. These children are already alone and without their families, shivering in cages; the administration has gone as far as sending a government lawyer to court to argue that denying soap to children — while forcing them to sleep on concrete floors in freezing cells — is safe and sanitary.

And this needless family separation goes on and on. Roughly 1,000 more families were separated after the administration announced the supposed end of the family separation policy, which was enforced for reasons as trivial as having a parent with a speech impediment.

As the death toll for children in US custody continues to rise, Trump, his adviser Stephen Miller, and their Republican allies continue their racist agenda to torture those attempting to find safety in the US. A recent example is the Remain in Mexico policy, where people are turned away at the border and forced to stay in dangerous border cities despite widespread documentation of extortion, kidnapping, and rape. The policy is as cruel as it is unnecessary.

Most recently, the administration announced it will deny flu vaccines to people who are detained. Never mind that three of the children who have died in US custody lost their lives to flu-related illnesses. Never mind that flu season is around the corner. Never mind that the CDC has documented an overwhelming mumps outbreak in 57 facilities across 19 states. The administration's disregard for people's lives is clear and unflinching.

Darlyn and her family are just one of the many casualties of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. On the anniversary of her death, we must remember her and the other six children whose lives this administration has ended with cruel immigration policies: Sixteen-year-old Juan de León Gutiérrez, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 2-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, and 16-year-old Carlos Hernandez Vasquez. Another 20-month-old girl, Mariee Juárez, died shortly after being held at a family detention camp in Texas.

These stories serve as a warning to all of us: If Congress doesn’t step in to protect children’s rights against the constant attacks by the Trump administration, we will likely see more deaths. We need a system in place that ensures that kids in detention facilities are treated as children, not animals.

Before coming to the US, Darlyn lived with her aunt in El Salvador. When Darlyn chose to leave to be with her mother, her aunt said that she wanted to ask her to stay, but she just couldn’t keep the young girl from her mother any longer. Everyone knows that families belong together, but the Trump administration continues to tear them apart. It is not reflective of the compassionate nation we are, and it has to end.

Jess Morales Rocketto is the chair of Families Belong Together and the political director for National Domestic Workers Alliance.


Stephen Miller’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.

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