Federal authorities on Friday released a 10-year-old undocumented girl whom Border Patrol agents had detained at a Texas hospital after a surgery.
Rosa Maria Hernandez was released days after the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit demanding she be freed. The girl, who was recovering from gallbladder surgery, was released to her parents in Laredo, Texas while her deportation case is still pending.
“Finally, Rosa Maria has been released to her family where she belongs. This young girl and her loved ones have been through a traumatizing ordeal,” said Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro. “The United States should not be a place where children seeking life-sustaining medical care are at risk of apprehension.”
Michael Tan, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said he was relieved Rosa Maria was going home after 10 days of detention.
“She’s going back home to where she should’ve been all along, not government custody,” Tan told BuzzFeed News.
At the same time, Tan said, he’s worried that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will feel comfortable going after vulnerable groups of people like a 10-year-old girl seeking medical attention.
“I’m concerned that we have folks on top telling ICE, telling CBP, the gloves are off and they should feel free and unleashed to do what they want to the immigrant community and that there are no consequences for targeting a child at a hospital,” Tan said. “It’s terrifying for immigrants and people of color who don’t know whether they should be looking over their shoulder the next time they go to a hospital.”
Rosa Maria was being transported from Laredo, Texas, to Corpus Christi on Oct. 24 via ambulance when she passed through an immigration checkpoint.
Border Patrol agents allowed her through with a cousin, a US citizen who was accompanying her, but followed the ambulance to Driscoll Children’s Hospital.
Border Patrol agents stood outside the girl’s hospital room the entire time she was there, her mother, Felipa De La Cruz, said. Once the hospital released her, Rosa Maria was taken into custody and put in immigration proceedings.
Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) took custody of her at a San Antonio, Texas center for minors until she was released Friday.
Rosa Maria has lived in Laredo, on the border with Mexico, since she was three months old.
The checkpoint she crossed is located miles from the border. BuzzFeed News has reported previously that Border Patrol checkpoints make undocumented immigrants feel trapped because they can’t cross them without risking being stopped, arrested, and deported. Some immigrants avoid crucial medical care because of the checkpoints.
Federal officials have said they were required to take her into custody under US anti-trafficking laws because she was not with a parent or guardian. But US Customs and Border Protection has been criticized for assigning agents to stand outside her room and then seize her as soon as she was medically cleared to go home.
The CBP lists hospitals, schools, and churches as “sensitive locations” that agents should go to only after careful consideration. The policy allows agents to enter one of those locations if national security dangers, terrorism, and public safety threats require it.
In a statement, CBP said the encounter initially took place at a checkpoint and not a hospital.
"Yes they first came across Rosa Maria and her cousin at a checkpoint, but they followed her to the hospital, waited for her outside her door, and arrested her at the hospital," Tan of the ACLU said. "The fact is she was arrested at the hospital, it's not like she was magically teleported to a checkpoint."