U.S. immigration officials detained a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy this week, just after she underwent emergency gallbladder surgery in Texas.
Rosa Maria Hernandez was on her way to a hospital with a cousin when the ambulance she was riding in was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint Tuesday. She was being transferred from a medical center in Laredo to a hospital in Corpus Christi.
Agents agreed to let her proceed to the hospital, but several armored cars followed the ambulance, and armed agents waited outside the room while Hernandez underwent surgery and recovered from the procedure.
The girl's mother and immigration advocates confirmed that immigration agents Wednesday night took Hernandez to a San Antonio facility that houses immigrant children who arrive alone in the U.S.
Hernandez is developmentally delayed because of her neurological disorder. During a teleconference Thursday, her family's attorney, Leticia Gonzalez, said the girl has the "mentality of a child closer to 4 or 5 years old" and "has difficulty understanding what is taking place."
Hernandez was brought across the border illegally from Mexico when she was 3 months old. Her mother said the family was seeking better care for her.
The San Antonio facility to which Hernandez was taken is 150 miles from where her family lives in Laredo.
"She told me she is OK," her mother, Felipa De La Cruz, said through a translator. "They are tending to her there. They are taking care of her." She described herself as "very distraught" at not being allowed to see her daughter.
Gonzalez said that Rosa Maria's doctors have recommended that she be released to a relative because of her illness. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not agreed to release her.
"It is stunning that federal agents would wait outside of a hospital room for a 10-year-old child with cerebral palsy," U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas said. "They are treating her like a convict."
Hernandez' case is not an isolated one, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Earlier this year, we heard about a 2-month-old whose parents were arrested while the child awaited surgery because they have to cross the checkpoint. The ACLU has also documented other similar cases that have ended in deportation," said ACLU lawyer Astrid Dominguez. "What are other families going to do after learning about the cruel treatment of Rosa Maria?"
Immigration arrests were up more than 40 percent from mid-January through early September over the same time period in 2016, according to ICE data.