The fate of a private prison company's liability in the death of a Guatemalan toddler hangs in the balance this week as a jury deliberates. CoreCivic, the company operating the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, is accused by the mother, Yazmin Juárez Coyoy, of being responsible for her 21-month-old daughter Mariee's death due to complications from viruses contracted after being detained in reportedly overcrowded conditions. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the child's death followed her release from the facility, where she had been held with her mother for 20 days starting on March 5, 2018.
During the trial, lawyers for Juárez contended that CoreCivic had failed to provide safe conditions at the South Texas facility. "They had a duty to provide safe living conditions for children in their care and, as you have heard all week, they did not do that," Stanton Jones, an attorney representing the mother, said in a statement obtained by the San Antonio Express-News. CoreCivic's defense argues that it is impossible to prove that Mariee contracted the viruses at their facility, suggesting that the toddler could have been sick before arriving from Guatemala or was infected en route to the United States.
Juárez's emotional testimony described how after spending six weeks in hospitals trying to save her daughter, she ultimately made the decision to end life support, ending the young life that had barely had the chance to flourish. "It was like being dead in life," Juárez sobbed during her testimony, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News. Her lawsuit originally sought up to $40 million in damages, though her lawyers have not disclosed the current amount they are seeking from the jury.
Cross-examination efforts by CoreCivic’s attorney Ashlee B. Hesman included pointing out inconsistencies in Juárez’s prior statements, questioning why the mother had not more proactively sought her daughter’s care while at the facility. According to the San Antonio Express-News interview, Hesman implied that Juárez and Mariee could have slept on a top bunk, supposedly adding distance from a sick boy nearby, but it was later countered by CoreCivic’s own testimony that safety rules prohibited young children from sleeping in the top bunks.
The legal battle also encompasses ICE, the agency for which CoreCivic operates the Dilley facility. The site, opening doors in 2014 amidst an influx of Central American migrants at the border, has since shifted to solely house women migrants since 2021. Juárez's separate lawsuit against ICE, filed in 2020 in New Jersey, alleges negligence in the medical care her daughter received while detained. Both legal confrontations paint a picture not just of personal tragedy, but one raising grave concerns about the care and conditions migrants, particularly children, face in U.S. detention facilities. The trial presided by U.S. District Judge Fred Biery is expected to conclude by the end of this week.