Houston – A 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who entered the United States from Mexico without permission a decade ago is potentially facing deportation after having to cross a Border Patrol checkpoint in South Texas for emergency gallbladder surgery, a family lawyer said on Thursday.
Immigration advocates are protesting Rosa Maria Hernandez’s case and say Border Patrol should show more discretion in the cases of sick children who are in the US illegally, but need medical treatment.
Leticia Gonzalez, an attorney for the Hernandez family, said on Thursday that Rosa Maria was taken with a cousin from the Texas border city of Laredo to a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, about 240km away.
They had to pass through one of several Border Patrol checkpoints set up in South Texas, north of the US-Mexico border. Advocates say the interior checkpoints, many of them kilometres north of the Rio Grande, restrict the movement of people without legal status out of the region.
Gonzalez said Border Patrol agents allowed the girl and her cousin to pass, but followed the hospital vehicle taking them.
At the hospital, agents stood by and refused to let Rosa Maria’s relative close the door to their room so they could keep watch over the girl, Gonzalez said.
And after the surgery was complete, agents stood ready to escort Rosa Maria to a federal facility for unaccompanied minors in the US illegally, located another 225km away in San Antonio.
Rosa Maria is being held at the facility indefinitely, the attorney said.
Even if she is eventually released to a sponsor approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the girl will undergo processing and could be deported. Gonzalez said it could be several weeks before she is released.
“They just refused to allow the child to go home,” Gonzalez said on Thursday.
In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection confirmed its agents had escorted Rosa Maria from a checkpoint to the hospital. It said Border Patrol agents were “committed to enforcing the immigration laws of this nation.” The statement added that “once medically cleared she will be processed accordingly”.
Gonzalez said Rosa Maria has “difficulty understanding exactly what’s taking place” and is closer in development to a child that’s 4 or 5 years old.
Her parents are both in the United States illegally and came with Rosa Maria to the US in 2007, when the girl was a newborn, in part to seek better medical treatment for her cerebral palsy.
They sent Rosa Maria with a cousin to the hospital because the cousin is a US citizen and could pass through the checkpoint.
The family is now raising money through the online fundraising site GoFundMe for legal fees and to move to a larger home that they say will encourage federal authorities to release her to live with them.