The mother of a 10-year-old immigrant girl with cerebral palsy — whose encounter with border agents triggered her potential deportation proceedings — is calling on the Trump administration to release her daughter from an immigrant children’s shelter operated by the government.
On Tuesday, Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented child living in Laredo, was taken by ambulance to receive emergency gallbladder surgery in Corpus Christi. At an interior checkpoint along the way, border agents flagged the young girl for living in the country illegally and followed the ambulance nearly 150 miles to Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Rosa Maria received her treatment and was medically cleared by Wednesday. Federal agents have since transferred her to a San Antonio children’s shelter in custody of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
“This is like torture. I can’t help her,” Felipa de la Cruz, her 39-year-old undocumented mother who lives in Laredo, told reporters on a call Thursday. She said she was able to talk with her daughter via a video conference on FaceTime and said the Mexican Consulate was aware of the situation and would follow up with Rosa Maria’s situation.
“I was anxious that no one would be with her,” De la Cruz added. “Yesterday, Rosa Maria indicated she wants to come home to me… It’s very difficult when I think about her. I start to become sad and I start to become desperate.”
De la Cruz and her family had come to the United States from Mexico in 2007 to seek a better life.
Since President Donald Trump took office, he has authorized and empowered federal immigration agents to go after suspected undocumented immigrants, regardless of the severity of their crimes. Although Trump has said he would go after the “bad” immigrants, like those he has called rapists, drug dealers, and criminals, the reality is that his federal agents have gone after “low-hanging fruit,” or immigrants without criminal records who have lived in the country for years. Immigration arrests have climbed 40 percent as compared to the same time period last year under President Barack Obama’s tenure, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Border checkpoints along the southern U.S. border have long been well known. But these lesser-known interior checkpoints — set up within 100 miles of the border — have also appeared to terrorize communities of color and prevented many immigrants from traveling northwards. As of 2016, there are 35 permanent interior checkpoints and hundreds of “temporary” checkpoints set up to stem drug trafficking. But really, these checkpoints allow agents to ferret out suspected undocumented immigrants. A 2015 ACLU report of New Mexico residents living within this so-called “Constitution-free zone” found that U.S. citizens with “very dark skin” were very often flagged too.
It’s difficult to imagine how a young girl with a neurological movement disorder who underwent gallbladder surgery could pose a national security threat or could even be considered a “bad” immigrant. It’s also difficult to understand why a child would be placed in a shelter when she has sponsors in the United States willing to take care of her. Those people include her U.S. citizen cousin Aurora Cantu who accompanied her on the ambulance ride and her legal permanent resident grandfather who’s lived in the country for 45 years. These factors are perhaps partially why it’s stirred national outrage among immigrant advocates and lawmakers.
“It goes to show that [the U.S. Department of Homeland Security] aren’t prioritizing criminals or people who are national security threats,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said on the call. “They are going after children. This is a perfect example of the callousness of the Trump administration.”
The government will likely process Rosa Maria’s case within 60 to 90 days, but the family’s attorney Leticia Gonzalez said, “they simply wouldn’t commit to a time.” Gonzalez pointed out that Rosa Maria will still require follow-up treatment. A note from Rosa Maria’s doctor indicated that she would need follow up care in three days. The doctor also suggested that Rosa Maria be discharged to her family so that she can continue her medical care with her primary care physician in Laredo.
The Trump administration’s indiscriminate detention of immigrant girls as though they are threats to the country also recently made news after the administration worked hard to deny a Texas teenager from obtaining her abortion. That girl, publicly known as Jane Doe, eventually received her abortion after several legal battles and being forced to go to a crisis pregnancy center where she was discouraged to get an abortion.
UPDATE: On November 3, U.S. authorities released Rosa Maria to her family. However, she is still at risk of deportation since the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency issued a notice to appear in immigration court and her case has yet to be processed.
“Rosa Maria is finally free. We’re thrilled that she can go home to heal surrounded by her family’s love and support,” Michael Tan, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “Despite our relief, Border Patrol’s decision to target a young girl at a children’s hospital remains unconscionable. No child should go through this trauma and we are working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”