A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent reportedly followed and detained an immigrant mother after she accompanied her four-year-old son to a San Antonio-area hospital in an ambulance past an interior border checkpoint from Laredo, a Texas-based immigrant advocacy group told ThinkProgress.
The mom, Silvia Macuixtle — an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has been in the country continuously since 2008 — has since been released from federal custody.
Macuixtle’s immigration nightmare began when her son broke his arm and she took him to a hospital in Laredo, according to the immigrant advocacy group Workers Defense Action Fund. Laredo Medical Center Hospital staff reportedly told Macuixtle that her son would need surgery at the University Hospital in San Antonio Hospital.
But because the ambulance had to cross an interior border checkpoint on I-35 between Laredo and San Antonio, Macuixtle had to choose whether to go with her son or send him alone in an ambulance. She was unable to find another U.S. citizen to accompany him.
“[Macuixtle was] told [her son] needed to go to San Antonio for a surgery he needed so she had a choice to make: whether she would send him by himself because he is a U.S. citizen but she isn’t, or she would go with him and risk deportation in the process,” Priscila Martinez, the Texas immigration coalition coordinator at Workers Defense Action Fund, told ThinkProgress Monday. Martinez spoke with Macuixtle during the hospital visit and again after she was released in Laredo later on Sunday.
Roughly 140 interior border checkpoints exist along the southern U.S. border where federal agents can check vehicles to interdict drugs and ask for occupants for their immigration status. If people are found to be undocumented, agents can detain these individuals and put them in potential deportation proceedings.
As relayed to Martinez by Macuixtle, Laredo hospital staff alerted border agents when Macuixtle and her son were ready to head out in an ambulance from Laredo to San Antonio. The ambulance stopped midway at an interior checkpoint but was allowed to continue to San Antonio. The border agent followed the entire way.
At the hospital, the agent stood by and kept a watchful eye on Macuixtle in the hospital room. When Macuixtle’s son was discharged from the hospital, they drove back south where she was detained for roughly two hours at the Cotulla checkpoint on I-35. According to Martinez, CBP turned Macuixtle over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents where she was detained for two hours. She was finally released on her own recognizance on Sunday. Macuixtle is now awaiting a check-in with ICE in May. In the meantime, Workers Defense Action Fund said ICE has “informed Macuixtle that she is eligible to apply for a work permit allowing her to care for her family.”
Under the Trump administration, the fact that Macuixtle was released is unique. A series of executive orders empowering federal agents to go after suspected undocumented immigrants could have led to a far worse immediate outcome.
Last year, border agents detained Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented child living in Laredo, after she was taken by ambulance to receive emergency gallbladder surgery in Corpus Christi. Hernandez was released in part due to major public outrage.
After Trump became president, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has since clarified a guidance calling on federal agents to avoid detaining immigrants in so-called sensitive locations so as not to disrupt the daily activities of those places. Such locations include schools and hospitals.
The guidance allows federal agents to carry out an “enforcement action” and detain immigrants at these locations if they pose national security or public safety threats. Although Macuixtle was not detained at the hospital, the border agent reportedly stayed with her and her son as he recovered.
In January, the Trump administration put in place a memo urging Border Patrol chiefs to address on a “case-by-case” basis for ambulances to receive “expedited transit” through or around an interior border enforcement checkpoint.
Advocacy groups and health workers worry that such incidents could have long-lasting impacts for not just Macuixtle and her children, but on the immigrant community at large.
“There’s no need for a border guard in the room while she’s dealing with her kid’s problems,” Martinez said.
Various health studies bear out that immigrant families face increasing fear and toxic stress under the Trump administration. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found immigrant families accessed fewer health care programs despite having U.S. born children because of increased fears of deportation. Pediatricians have similarly expressed major concern that the Trump administration’s immigration policies have created negative effects on behavioral changes and mental health among children who worry about their parents’ immigration statuses.
“The current climate has led to excessive fear and uncertainty that is really concerning regarding the health and well-being of children,” Dr. Julie M. Linton, MD, co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Immigrant Child Health Special Interest Group and pediatrician in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told ThinkProgress.
Linton explained that children’s brains can be affected by severe, prolonged “toxic stress” and make children at risk of both short and long term threats to their health and well-being.
“When I hear about parents not being able to safely seek care for their children who are in need of care to keep them healthy and happy and safe, I am incredibly alarmed,” Linton continued. “When parents are scared, children are scared… the threat of separation from a parent really places children in a situation where we are disrupting the most essential and important part of their development.”
“We as Americans, one of our greatest values is the value of the family and we’re threatening that,” Linton said. “As a pediatrician and a mother, I find it hard to reconcile how we could ever justify the potential separation of a child from a loving parent.”