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October 30, 2017

Undocumented 10-year-old faces deportation after ambulance stopped at customs checkpoint

Daily Briefing

    An undocumented ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy faces deportation after Customs and Border Patrol agents identified her at a checkpoint on her way to receive emergency gallbladder surgery in Texas.


    The girl's mother, Felipa De La Cruz, said she and her family had moved from Mexico to Laredo, Texas, when her daughter, Rosa Maria Hernandez, was three months old so she could receive better medical care than what was available to her in Mexico. Neither of her parents are legal residents.

    According to De La Cruz, the family could not afford the necessary care for Hernandez, who also suffers from diminished mental capacity, in Mexico. However, in Texas, Hernandez was covered through Medicaid, De La Cruz said.

    Details on detainment

    On Tuesday, Hernandez and her cousin, a U.S. citizen, took an ambulance to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi for emergency gallbladder surgery. While en route, the ambulance stopped at an interior Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) checkpoint where officials determined that Hernandez was undocumented.

    Border patrol agents then accompanied the girl and her cousin to the hospital, where she received surgery. According to CNN, the agents remained at the hospital until Hernandez was discharged. Leticia Gonzalez, an attorney for the family, said up to four agents were stationed outside Hernandez' room and required the doors to her room remain open until Gonzalez arrived and cited attorney-client privilege for privacy. 

    The hospital discharged Hernandez with instructions that because of her mental condition, she receive care from familiar people. However, following discharge, Hernandez was taken to a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement for unaccompanied and undocumented minors. Hernandez has been able to speak with her family by video chat, but she has not seen them in person, CNN reports.

    Unclear situation

    Gonzalez said it is unclear when or whether Hernandez will be released. The New York Times reports that while the government has facilities in place to detain adults for deportation, families who arrived together, and children who arrived alone, it is "rare, if not unheard-of, for a child already living in the United States to be arrested—particularly one with a serious medical condition."

    According to CNN, CBP has policies in place for finding sponsors and guardians for detained minors, such as Hernandez. Once a sponsor is found, the agency typically releases a notice that transfers the case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's local Enforcement and Removal Operations field office, which files the notice and initiates immigration court proceedings. At that point, an immigration judge determines whether to provide relief for the person at trial or issue a removal order, which authorizes deportation.

    According to Gonzalez, the girl's family was told her case would be expedited, but they have not received an official timeframe. The overall process, however, can take several years, and individuals have the opportunity to appeal official removal orders, CNN reports. 

    According to CNN, CBP denied a request by Hernandez' grandfather, a legal resident of the United States, for custody of the girl.


    According to CNN, the girl's family and supporters have said Hernandez' apprehension was cruel and unnecessary, particularly because it involved a "sensitive location."

    Immigrations and Customs Enforcement —which has said it is not yet involved in the situation—has a policy barring the routine enforcement arrests in  locations considered sensitive, such as schools, hospitals, and churches, CNN reports. However, according to CNN, the policy is separate from CBP's rules, which permit enforcement at checkpoints.

    CBP said it upheld immigration laws. "Due to the juvenile's medical condition, border patrol agents escorted her and her cousin to a Corpus Christi hospital where she could receive appropriate medical care," agency officials said. "Per the immigration laws of the United States, once medically cleared, she will be processed accordingly. The Mexican Consulate has been advised of the situation by [the] Laredo Sector Border Patrol" (Stapleton/Kopan, CNN, 10/28; Yee/Dickerson, New York Times, 10/25).

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