McALLEN — Reports of an undocumented 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was detained after she traveled past a checkpoint to receive medical care have once again emphasized the predicament faced by people living in the Rio Grande Valley without proper authorization.
Rosa Maria Hernandez was traveling in an ambulance from her home in Laredo to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi to undergo gallbladder surgery.
On the way, Hernandez, who was traveling with a cousin, was stopped at a checkpoint where they presented Border Patrol agents with a letter from the hospital stating she was traveling for a necessary medical operation, according to Alex Galvez, an immigration attorney representing the family.
The agents told them the letter wasn’t enough and proceeded to follow them to the hospital. Two agents were stationed outside of her recovery room and she was detained.
Risking detention to get medical treatment is something that is all too common for some Valley residents.
“People don’t know what to do,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “They’re always asking, ‘is there a possibility that we can get some kind of permission to do this?’ so that’s the question that comes before us.”
Pimentel said she believed this issue needed to be brought before local immigration officials so some kind of process can be established for these situations.
“It’s urgent to consider the situation and importance of them to travel,” she said, though she also said immigration officials had the responsibility to detain individuals who are in the country without proper authorization once they are made aware of them. “They have the responsibility to process that individual if they’re here illegally, so I think that’s why this happened. I don’t know that they can go around that fact.”
Galvez, the attorney, thought it inappropriate that agents followed Hernandez to the hospital and waited there to detain her.
He noted that under the President Obama’s administration, priority for deportation was given to people who posed a threat to society or were a flight risk.
“That priority list no longer exists,” he said. “What immigration (officials) are not telling the country with this case is that ‘Even if you’re going to the hospital, we don’t care, we’re going to apply immigration law to the fullest extent.’”
Efrén Olivares, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said it was cruel that immigration officials would focus their resources on her.
“There’s no conceivable scenario in my mind under which this little girl is a priority for ICE, or CBP,” Olivares said, “so I don’t understand why they are devoting resources to deporting a sick 10-year old.”
De La Cruz is currently at a shelter in San Antonio run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Her mother, Felipa De La Cruz, said her daughter appeared to be doing fine when she spoke with her Friday morning.
Galvez said the case has been flagged to be expedited and hopes Hernandez will be released in three weeks instead of the typical two months. However, he remains concerned about her well-being.
“I’m not too worried about her medical needs as I am worried about her psychological needs,” Galvez said. “Psychologically, this is traumatizing for her. She’s never been without her mom.”
He concluded that there were no other options for people who find themselves in these situations.
“If you’re here undocumented then you will be exposed to removal proceedings and/or deportation — no ifs, ands or buts; that’s the lesson,” he said. “If you’re undocumented, even if you have to go to the hospital, you’re not safe, nothing is safe.”
Staff Writer Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro contributed to this report.