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Sued for $40M in toddler's death, Eloy cancels 'middleman' deal with ICE detention center in Texas

Faced with a $40 million lawsuit in the death of a migrant toddler, Eloy's City Council voted Tuesday to end a contract that allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to operate a family detention center 900 miles away in Dilley, Texas.

The move ends an ad-hoc contract created in 2014 between ICE and the city as the Obama administration struggled with an influx of parents traveling with children. The agreement allowed ICE to operate the South Texas Family Residential Center, a 2,400-bed facility designed to hold largely mothers and children in what the agency terms a "family setting." 

Eloy, a small farming community about 50 miles northwest of Tucson, already had a contract with ICE and the private company CoreCivic, once known as CCA, for an immigrant detention facility in the city, when it signed on to the agreement as a middleman, and the city was slated to receive $438,000 in annual fees.

The city council made the decision after Eloy was named in a $40-million lawsuit filed by the mother of a toddler who died just after she was released by officials at the Texas center.

Yazmin Juarez filled the suit in May, after her daughter died in a nearby hospital, suffering from a "catastrophic intrathoracic hemorrhage." Juarez and her daughter Mariee had crossed into the United States in May in southern Texas. While in ICE custody, Mariee began to suffer congestion and a productive cough, but over a few weeks, the 19-month-old's conditioned worsened until she was hospitalized on March 26, according to David Rosenbaum and R. Stanton Jones, lawyers for Juarez.

On May 10, the girl died from a series of complicated that ultimately collapsed her lungs. Because of the ISGA, Eloy had a "duty to maintain safe and sanitary conditions" at the ICE facility in Dilley, and thus the city was responsible for the death of Mariee Juarez, the lawsuit read.

"This is overdue action from the city of Eloy to separate itself from the operation and management of the ICE 'family detention' facility in Dilley, Texas, where Mariee Juarez fell ill as a result of the unsafe and unsanitary conditions and then was denied proper medical care," said Jones. "Mariee died just months before her second birthday because ICE, the city of Eloy, and others failed to provide the most basic standard of care as her condition rapidly deteriorated, and this move by the Eloy City Council has no impact on the city's liability for this little girl's death earlier this year."

On Tuesday, the city council sought to terminate the agreement, known as an Intergovernmental Service Agreement or ISGA, and sought to approve a new agreement between Eloy and CoreCivic that would remove the requirements for family residential care services at the South Texas Residential Center.

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The decision comes as federal officials continue to struggle with fallout from a decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prosecute parents for illegally coming into the United States, and sending their children to facilities maintained by Health and Human Services. 

The policy created a massive public outcry, and at least four major court cases as parents sued for the return of their children with help from civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. At least 500 children are still separated from their parents and the number of children who remain in federal custody has grown to nearly 12,000 as the federal government strives to clamp down on people crossing the border. 

CoreCivic said that the agreement would be moved to Dilley, Texas, instead. 

"Due to the emergency nature of the establishment of the South Texas Family Residential Center, Eloy was approached because of the city’s experience working with ICE and CoreCivic on IGSAs," said Amanda S. Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic. "At ICE’s request, the IGSA is now being moved to Dilley as a long-term solution," she said. 

ICE sent out a short statement on the change. 

"To maintain the integrity of the contracting process, ICE does not discuss contracts that may be in negotiation," said Yasmeen Pitts-O'Keefe, a spokeswoman for the agency. 

In February, the Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General sharply criticized the agreement, saying that ICE "improperly modified" the agreement and created an "unnecessary 'middleman'." 

"Eloy’s sole function under the modification is to act as the middleman between ICE and CCA," wrote John V. Kelly, the acting inspector general for DHS. "Consequently, ICE may have overpaid for detention services at the South Texas Family Residential Center, as well as other detention facilities. Moreover, ICE has no assurance that it executed detention center contracts in the best interest of the Federal Government, taxpayers, or detainees." 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The logo for Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, hangs over the front gate of a prison complex in Eloy, where unauthorized immigrants are held under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.