A national organization for immigration lawyers said Wednesday that a migrant toddler had died shortly after being released from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement family detention center in Dilley, Texas.
The statement came after a day of confusion set off by a tweet from an immigration attorney alleging a child had died in ICE custody. ICE denied Wednesday that a migrant had died in its custody and said it was investigating the possibility a child had died after leaving an agency facility. The tweet appears to have been the result of the lawyer reading a crowdsourcing call on Facebook, posting it on Twitter as news, and getting a crucial fact wrong in the process.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), which confirmed the death to the Washington Post, was not able to provide additional details, including when the death occurred, its cause, or what, if any, impact the detention may have had on the child’s health. The communications director for the group told Slate in an email, “AILA learned from a contact who was in touch with the family that the death occurred after the child and parent left Dilley. AILA does not have permission to share who told us this information, and we do not at this time have additional details regarding the death.” Slate has not been able to independently verify the death; neither has the Post, which first reported the story.
The disarray began on Twitter when Houston immigration attorney Mana Yegani tweeted, “There are reports that a child died in ICE custody in Dilley, Texas.” She deleted the tweet and issued an update, saying that the child had actually died after her release.
The tweets started circulating widely, with thousands of users reposting them and attempting to alert reporters. (The allegations around cause of death remain unverified.)
By Wednesday morning, people were questioning the accuracy of the report. For example, a CBS assignment editor noted he had deleted his retweet.
At 8:52 a.m. ET, 11 hours after Yegani’s initial tweet, ICE posted its own tweet denying that a child had died in the Dilley detention center.
An ICE spokesperson echoed the tweet in a statement to Slate, which read in part: “No child or adult has ever died at an ICE family residential center.” The spokesperson also pointed to the fact that “the person who originally tweeted that later posted an update that retracted the original accusation.” ICE’s tweet did not address the possibility that a child may have died after leaving ICE custody.
At around the same time that ICE sent its tweet, Yegani disclosed where she had obtained the information. (Yegani was unavailable for comment when Slate reached out to her law office.)
Melissa Lynn Turcios, the D.C.-based lawyer whom Yegani referenced in the tweets, said she is a friend of the toddler’s family. It appears that she had taken to Facebook to try to find legal help for the family. Yegani then posted information about the child’s death—incorrectly at first—on Twitter. Turcios told Slate in an email, “I am not an attorney for anyone involved. I was simply hoping to connect the family with legal resources, as a friend.” She declined to comment further.