Civil rights group sues for records tied to 8-year-old’s death in Harlingen Border Patrol custody

Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

DALLAS — The Texas Civil Rights Project on Friday filed a lawsuit under the country’s open records law against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seeking medical records relating to an 8-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody last summer.

The Austin-based nonprofit’s filing comes on the one-year anniversary of Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez’s death on May 17, when she experienced what CBP officials called a “medical emergency” while at the Harlingen station, where she and her family were in custody.

Anadith had a history of heart problems, including undergoing open-heart surgery at age 5, and sickle cell anemia, according to the 11-page complaint filed in an Austin federal court.

The lawsuit asks a judge to compel CBP to release Anadith’s medical records and other documents relating to her death. The nonprofit contends CBP has violated the Freedom of Information Act by missing deadlines and by denying requests to produce documents.

Customs and Border Protection spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the filing Friday afternoon.

An internal investigation conducted last summer by CBP found that contracted personnel working at the station failed to contact doctors prior to her death. In a statement at the time, acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller characterized her death as a “deeply upsetting and unacceptable tragedy.”

Attorneys with the nonprofit submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to CBP in October, according to the 11-page complaint, seeking records relating to Anadith’s death due to a wave of media coverage at the time, concerns over CBP’s treatment of children in the agency’s care and to ensure her due process rights.

Since then, CBP has failed to respond to the nonprofit’s request for expedited processing and has denied requests to produce records related to the child’s death, the nonprofit’s attorneys said in the lawsuit.

The nonprofit is representing Anadith’s family. In a statement Friday, her mother, Mabel Álvarez, called for CBP to release information about the death of her daughter.

“We have fought a lot and we are still fighting,” Álvarez said in the statement announcing the filing. “I ask the government to please help us access Anadith’s documents so that we can turn the page because it is very painful.”