Rosa Maria Hernandez, 10, who has cerebral palsy and was brought to the United States illegally as a baby, was detained this week after undergoing surgery in Texas. One of the newest arrivals this week at the Baptist Children's Home Ministries facility ...and more »
“It’s the period when she needs me the most,” said Ms. de la Cruz, who cannot visit her daughter because she, too, could be arrested at a checkpoint. “I can’t help her. When I start to think about her, I start to get sad.”
In a year when President Trump’s hard line on illegal immigration has driven the number of immigration arrests up by more than 40 percent, Rosa Maria’s case has sped straight to the heart of the immigration-debate maelstrom.
Politicians have called for her release; activists have rallied, fund-raised and prayed on her behalf, questioning whether the Border Patrol violated its own policy against arresting immigrants at hospitals and why agents chose to expend so much time and manpower on a disabled 10-year-old girl.
The Border Patrol said it had followed proper procedure in Rosa Maria’s case. And to supporters of tougher enforcement, Rosa Maria and her family — no matter how sympathetic their situation — are the embodiment of the argument that a weak border only encourages immigrants to come to the United States and take advantage of its schools, health care and other resources.
“For crying out loud, we are not only paying to turn our country into the world’s orphanage, but we are also turning our nation into an emergency room for the rest of the world, where they drop off their kids or their elderly and we have to take care of them,” said George Rodriguez, a conservative activist in San Antonio. “It is not our fault, and we should not be on the hook for it.”
Rosa Maria, the second of three daughters, came to the United States from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, when she was 3 months old.
Her mother knew something was wrong when she held Rosa Maria for the first time: The baby was turning yellow. Doctors told her that the newborn would never walk, speak or feed herself. She survived her first day thanks only to a blood transfusion from a friend of a friend, a woman named Rosa Maria, for whom the baby was named.
Her parents struggled to pay for her cerebral palsy treatments on Ms. de la Cruz’s partner’s earnings as a construction worker. Rosa Maria’s brain tests alone cost 300 pesos each, and she had them three times a day, at a time when the minimum professional wage was about 60 pesos a day.
The city they could see just on the other side of the Rio Grande began to tempt them. They knew crossing was illegal, Ms. de la Cruz said, but their only thought was for their daughter.
“In Mexico, we weren’t going to be able to pull her through,” she said. “But my partner said, ‘Maybe in the U.S., they’ll help us with her.’ ”
Everything changed in Texas. A community center helped arrange for Rosa Maria to receive treatment through a government program for children with certain chronic, debilitating conditions that require specialized care. A month after they arrived, she had already begun receiving speech therapy, and would later receive occupational and physical therapy.
She can now speak and move. Developmentally, however, she remains closer to a 4- or 5-year-old than a 10-year-old, the family’s lawyer, Leticia Gonzalez, said.
“I don’t know how you can deny children the opportunity to thrive,” said Priscila Martinez, an immigration activist helping the family. “These families, all they’re looking for is a better opportunity for their children.”
Though she crossed an international border to reach Laredo, Ms. de la Cruz has not left the Laredo area in the decade since, because of Border Patrol checkpoints to the north. Her partner, a day laborer, was arrested and detained by immigration agents five years ago, but was allowed to stay in the country under supervision, Ms. de la Cruz said.
A few weeks ago, severe stomach pain sent Rosa Maria to the hospital, where doctors discovered kidney stones. The complications meant that she required emergency gallbladder surgery.
With her parents unable to pass through the checkpoint, they asked Rosa Maria’s adult cousin, an American citizen, to ride with her to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.
They never thought the Border Patrol would stop the ambulance.
Doctors in the Rio Grande Valley send children in need of specialized care north to Driscoll every day, often accompanied by a relative with legal status instead of their undocumented parents, said Dr. Carmen Rocco, a Brownsville pediatrician who works with immigrant families.
When Dr. Rocco first started practicing in the area three decades ago, she said, a doctor’s note was enough for Border Patrol agents to grant families temporary permission to travel to Corpus Christi for treatment. But in recent years, she said, doctors had come to expect no flexibility from the agency, forcing them to piece together teams of specialists from around the Valley to treat children south of the checkpoints. Since Mr. Trump took office, families have become even less likely to risk the journey. Rosa Maria’s case would probably discourage parents even more, Dr. Rocco said.
In May, after a hospital in Harlingen, Tex., told the Border Patrol that a gravely ill 2-month-old patient, an American citizen, needed urgent care north of the checkpoint in Corpus Christi, agents showed up and offered to escort him and his undocumented parents through the checkpoint to the hospital — as long as they agreed to be placed in deportation proceedings when they arrived.
No longer able to avoid the agents, the parents, Irma and Oscar Sanchez, said yes. As their son awaited the operation, they were taken one at a time to an immigration office for processing, and returned to the hospital, where agents kept them within sight at all times, said their lawyer, Lisa Koop. They are not in detention but are awaiting deportation hearings.
A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, the agency that includes the Border Patrol, said that while agency policy generally forbade making immigration arrests at hospitals, schools, churches and other so-called sensitive locations, agents had not violated the policy in either case.
They had first stopped Rosa Maria at a checkpoint before following her to the hospital, the spokesman said, while the Sanchezes were taken into custody only because of the agreement among the medical team, the parents and the Border Patrol that the infant would be allowed through the checkpoint.
When Rosa Maria’s ambulance was stopped, her cousin acknowledged to the Border Patrol that the girl was undocumented. The agents who followed the ambulance were legally obligated to do so because she was traveling without a parent or a legal guardian, raising concerns about human trafficking, the spokesman said.
Rosa Maria will be released to her family after being processed and placed in deportation proceedings, which could take weeks, her lawyer said.
Her next appointment across the checkpoint will be not in an operating room, but, instead, in immigration court.
Illegal Immigration,Immigration and Emigration,Border Patrol (US),Customs and Border Protection (US),Laredo (Tex),Corpus Christi (Tex),Rio Grande Valley (Tex),San Antonio (Tex)