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Texas: 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy detained by US immigration after surgery

At the hospital, US Border Patrol agents stood by and refused to let the girl’s relative close the door to their room so they could keep watch over her.

world Updated: Oct 27, 2017 13:36 IST

AP, Houston
A border patrol officer stands along the US- Mexico border.
A border patrol officer stands along the US- Mexico border.(Reuters File Photo)

A 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who entered the United States from Mexico without permission a decade ago is potentially facing deportation after having to cross a Border Patrol checkpoint in South Texas for emergency gallbladder surgery, a family lawyer said on Thursday.

Immigration advocates are protesting Rosa Maria Hernandez’s case and say Border Patrol should show more discretion in the cases of sick children who are in the US illegally but need medical treatment.

Leticia Gonzalez, an attorney for the Hernandez family, said Thursday that Rosa Maria was taken with a cousin from the Texas border city of Laredo to a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, about 240 kilometers away. They had to pass through one of several Border Patrol checkpoints set up in South Texas, north of the US-Mexico border. Advocates say the interior checkpoints, many of them miles north of the Rio Grande, restrict the movement of people without legal status out of the region.

Gonzalez said Border Patrol agents allowed the girl and her cousin to pass, but followed the hospital vehicle taking them. At the hospital, agents stood by and refused to let Rosa Maria’s relative close the door to their room so they could keep watch over the girl, Gonzalez said. And after the surgery was complete, agents stood ready to escort Rosa Maria to a federal facility for unaccompanied minors in the US illegally, located another 225 kilometers in San Antonio.

Rosa Maria is being held at the facility indefinitely, the attorney said. Even if she is eventually released to a sponsor approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the girl will undergo processing and could be deported. Gonzalez said it could be several weeks before she is released.

“They just refused to allow the child to go home,” Gonzalez said Thursday.

In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection confirmed its agents had escorted Rosa Maria from a checkpoint to the hospital. It said Border Patrol agents were “committed to enforcing the immigration laws of this nation.” The statement added that “once medically cleared she will be processed accordingly”.

HHS, which oversees facilities for unaccompanied minors in the US illegally, said in a statement that it would not comment on the specific cases of people in its custody.

Screenshot of the online campaign to raise funds for Rosa Maria Hernandez on
Screenshot of the online campaign to raise funds for Rosa Maria Hernandez on

US Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat, blamed the Trump administration for adopting “callous policies” toward immigrants.

“They’re treating her like a hardened convict,” Castro said.

Gonzalez said Rosa Maria has “difficulty understanding exactly what’s taking place” and is closer in development to a child that’s 4 or 5 years old. Her parents are both in the United States illegally and came with Rosa Maria to the US in 2007, when the girl was a newborn, in part to seek better medical treatment for her cerebral palsy. They sent Rosa Maria with a cousin to the hospital because the cousin is a US citizen and could pass through the checkpoint.

The family is now raising money through the online fundraising site GoFundMe for legal fees and to move to a larger home that they say will encourage federal authorities to release her to live with them.

The case is reminiscent of a September incident in which a man and woman in the US illegally were followed by Border Patrol to the same Corpus Christi hospital when their newborn child needed surgery.

Astrid Dominguez, immigration policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said people without legal status in Texas’ border regions have long had to decide whether to seek medical care and face detention, including during the Obama administration.

“This isn’t an isolated case,” Dominiguez said. “This is a risk they have to take to get medical attention for their children.”

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 13:35 IST

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