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Doctors Call for Release of Girl with Cerebral Palsy After Border Agents Remove Her from Hospital

Web ExclusiveOctober 31, 2017
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The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding the immediate release of a 10-year-old girl who was removed from the children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, and taken into custody by Border Patrol agents as she recovered from emergency surgery. The girl, Rosa Maria Hernandez, is undocumented and has cerebral palsy. She has been living in the United States since she was three months old, when her parents moved to the country in order to access better medical care for her. She was first detained last Tuesday, after an ambulance carrying her to the hospital was stopped at a checkpoint. Agents then waited outside her hospital room until she was discharged, and detained her. Video shows the agents escorting Hernandez into custody as she’s wheeled out of the hospital on a gurney. Her doctors are recommending she be released into the care of her family. We’re joined by Priscila Martinez, who is the Texas immigration coalition coordinator and among those calling for immigration authorities to release the girl back to her family.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding the immediate release of a 10-year-old girl who was removed from the children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, and taken into custody by Border Patrol agents as she recovered from emergency surgery. The girl, Rosa Maria Hernandez, is undocumented and has cerebral palsy. She has been living in the United States since she was three months old, when her parents moved to the country in order to access better medical care for her. She was first detained last Tuesday, after an ambulance carrying her to the hospital was stopped at a checkpoint. Agents then waited outside of her hospital room until she was discharged, and detained her. Video shows the agents escorting Rosa Maria Hernandez into custody as she’s wheeled out of the hospital on a gurney.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Rosa Maria’s mother, Felipa de la Cruz, speaking to her daughter, who was on the phone from detention. We can barely hear Rosa Maria, as her mother cries.

FELIPA DE LA CRUZ: [translated] Yes, my darling, I want to come and see you, but I can’t come. No, I don’t know if your father can come and take you out. Oh, no, they don’t allow other children inside, because they don’t want you to get sick. If that happened, you may not recover quickly enough to come see me.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency deputy director—that’s the ICE deputy director—under George W. Bush called the girl’s treatment “appalling.” This is Alonzo Peña, speaking to KSAT TV in San Antonio.

ALONZO PEÑA: Just not necessary to do that. I mean, this—she could have been given a notice to appear. You know, here she’s just getting out of the hospital, having surgery, and they’re going to put her in a detention facility. It’s just not right. … Those agents should be out on the line, stopping drugs, stopping gang members, protecting our national security, not doing this to a 10-year-old girl who’s just come out of surgery and has other medical issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Rosa’s doctors are recommending she be released into the care of her family. But instead she was released into the detention facility.

For more, we go to Austin, Texas, where we’re joined by Priscila Martinez, who’s the Texas Immigration Coalition coordinator, among those calling for immigration authorities to allow Rosa to go back to her family.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Priscila. Why don’t you lay out how could this possibly have happened? Before you give your reaction, give us the tick-tock of what happened to this 10-year-old girl, who had surgery in a hospital, taken out by customs, Border Patrol.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Well, thank you for having me. Yes, so, she was actually going, at 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning, with her cousin, Aurora Cantu, through checkpoint in the—the freeway checkpoint in Laredo, Texas. And she went to the Corpus Christi hospital for this emergency surgery that she needed. The emergency surgery happened at 9 a.m. And the whole time, from the checkpoint forward, the Border Patrol were at their bedpost. They had to keep her in sight. They kept saying, “We have to keep her in sight.” If she was going to get an X-ray, she needed to be in their sight. If she was going to the surgery, she needed to be in sight. They weren’t—they didn’t allow the family to have a closed room. They didn’t allow the family to have a private conversation. It wasn’t until the next day, when the lawyer arrived, that they were able to have a private conversation. And then they were able to talk to the hospital lawyers and figure out a solution.

At first, they wanted—Border Patrol wanted to just straight take her without an ambulance, wanted to put [her] in [their] car. And even the lawyer told us that one of the Border Patrol wanted to be in the back of the ambulance with the girl, with his gun. And she had to beg the Border Patrol to go to the front, so that the girl wouldn’t have to see a man, a stranger, with this gun, in the—sit next to her in this way. So then she was taken, after many negotiations with the hospital, with Border Patrol and with the lawyer. She was actually—she was taken to the detention facility in San Antonio. And that’s where she is currently right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Priscila, during this time, were her parents at all notified by Border Patrol of the situation, and her given the chance to be able to, in one way or other, defend herself, have a lawyer, somehow go to court to stop this?

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right. So, that’s the part that gets tricky, because we were—so, Aurora was really the one telling us everything, and she was telling us what was happening, and she was talking to Felipa. Felipa was the one talking to press and trying to get—trying to figure out what was going on. And we, in the meantime, were trying to figure out—through working with elected officials, trying to figure out really who—who was in custody, who was in charge, who was the person that made this decision to follow this girl. We called—you know, we had Congressman Castro call Border Patrol directly. They said they weren’t in charge of the situation. They called ICE, and they said they also weren’t in charge. So we really couldn’t figure out who was in—who was the one, the decision maker. And we know that the decision came from the top. We just—we still, to this day, don’t know who decided to follow this girl and continue to be there for the several days that she was in the hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, let’s be very clear. When you talk about her being stopped at a checkpoint, this wasn’t coming over the border, although even if it was—

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: No.

AMY GOODMAN: —this is inexcusable.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: No.

AMY GOODMAN: In Texas, there are many checkpoints when you drive around. Rosa, who is a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, with a mind of a 5-year-old, has been in this country since she was three months old. She was just driving—her family was just driving her in Texas to get to the hospital for her surgery.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right. And we’ve these cases many times. We’ve seen more and more that Border Patrol is following people through the checkpoint, and they’re following them all the way to the hospital. This isn’t an isolated case. There have been many cases before. And now we’re finding out more. The hospital staff, even in their orders of being able to take someone in emergency surgery, they push to the last minute, because they know that they’re risking someone’s status, someone’s immigration status. And so, they also, in their—in the way that they’re recommending people to get their healthcare services, they are basing that decision on whether—how emergency—how much they need it versus, you know, them risking going to a detention center afterwards, too. So it’s been a really difficult decision and a really difficult situation for a lot of families all across the border.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are the legal remedies that hospital personnel have in this situation? Does a doctor have a right to tell—to tell Border Patrol agents, “No, you can’t be—you can’t be coming into this hospital room or seizing one of my patients”?

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right, yeah. So, if it’s a private hospital, they absolutely have the right to not let Border Patrol in. Border Patrol uses intimidation to get in, to do what they want, to continue to follow their procedures and their orders. But Border Patrol or any type of enforcement does not have to be in the hospital, if it’s a private hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play an outgoing voice message from ICE’s community relations officer, Norma Lacy, who says the agency is not involved in Rosa Maria’s detention.

NORMA LACY: If you are calling regarding Rosa Maria’s case, please be advised that ICE is not a part of this case. We have not been involved, and have been trying to set the record straight. If you would like to look up an article in Newsweek, we have published a correction. You need to call Border Patrol. They were the ones, the agency in Laredo, that was involved.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the question is: Who has responsibility here? We also heard the former deputy director of ICE, not in charge anymore, but he was under George W. Bush. He actually broke down, and he said, “This is unacceptable.” I believe his own son died in the hospital that Rosa had her operation in.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right, yeah. So we continue to see this, that Border Patrol is taking no actual responsibility for this. They filed, supposedly, an NTA, notice to appear, but—they gave it to the hospital, but they did not give it to the lawyer. And even to this day, we still have not seen this notice to appear. So we’re a little bit confused as to who—again, who has responsibility for this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what steps, what legal steps, are you taking now in terms of—I mean, is it possible to file a habeas corpus or have a judge rule on this matter?

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Yeah, so I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out, because it is a little bit tricky. We don’t know who is actually responsible. And so I think that the—her lawyers, her immigration lawyers, because they have not gotten the notice to appear, they can’t move forward with the legal process. I know ACLU is kind of working on really saying that “Today is the day. If you do not release her, we will sue you for this.” And I think that that’s something that they—you know, that they were working on all yesterday. And so, you know, I don’t know what’s to come. I hope the best, and I really hope that, you know, we’ll get some really good news soon, and she’ll be released back to her family.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, these stories are unbelievable. We recently reported on a nurse in Utah who was stopping the police from coming in to pull blood from an unconscious patient. She was dragged out and arrested for stopping the police officer. Ultimately, though, interestingly, the police officer was fired for his actions. And then, in March, we looked at the shocking case of an asylum seeker from El Salvador who was detained as she battled a brain tumor. Sara Beltran Hernandez was shackled at her hands and wrists, removed from the hospital, taken back to the Prairieland Detention Center near Dallas. This is her lawyer, Fatma Marouf.

FATMA MAROUF: After I went to the hospital to try to understand what was happening, and subsequently talked to people within the Department of Homeland Security, as well as within the hospital, we were told that she would be moved to a hospital in Dallas. And then, suddenly, the next day, she was taken back.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Fatma Marouf, the lawyer for the woman taken out of the hospital with a brain tumor. How common, Priscila Martinez, is this?

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: So, I think we’ve seen a lot more reports of Border Patrol following people all the way to a hospital. I had a case of an older woman. She was 65 years old. And she had a brain tumor, and she needed an operation in San Antonio. And her U.S. citizen children were not allowed to go into the room and see her, their own mother, after she had the surgery, and they—because Border Patrol was staying outside. Now, I just learned about this case now, and there’s been more cases that are coming forward, because we see more and more of the situation where Border Patrol follows people who are sick, and they treat them like criminals, and they have no accountability whatsoever.

So, this is our first step into creating that accountability and to showing—and to showing the community that this is unacceptable and we’re not—we’re not going to accept this. And, you know, we’re really empowering the community to speak out and to say something, so that we can hold them accountable for their actions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Priscila Martinez, you’re speaking to us from Texas, the state that is now infamous for SB 4, the legislation that would empower the state officials to arrest public municipal leaders or even police chiefs who refuse to cooperate with ICE and with Border Patrol. I’m wondering your sense of how—where Texas is headed, because I know this right now is being challenged still in court appeals—where you think Texas is headed on this issue of the treating of the undocumented.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right. And I think it’s really—it’s been hard for Texas communities, immigrant communities, because they’ve been hit sometimes at every level, at the local, state and federal level, you know, especially our folks out in Houston, where they were hit not only by SB 4, but also by Harvey and not even being able to qualify for FEMA assistance. And so, it’s been really challenging for families here.

However, we’ve seen that there’s more and more communities that are empowered, that are coming out. We’re training our communities to know their rights. We’re training them to feel empowered, that just because a police officer asks you for your immigration status, you do not have to answer. And we’re empowering them to organize and to fight back. And this is, you know, [inaudible] that we’re looking to—forward to seeing that expand in Texas to kind of really build the story of how communities are standing up and fighting back.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Priscila, can you talk about where Rosa Maria is right now and the fact that her surgeon says she still needs follow-up medical care, saying she should be with her family? Talk about this situation, before we go.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right, yeah. So, Rosa Maria has a very—she’s right now at the detention center. She is being told by her mom that she needs to be there to recover from the surgery, and as soon as she’s recovered, you know, she can come home. And I think that that—that’s the way that they’re kind of framing it.

But she’s already getting a little bit—we could hear it in her voice, according to her mother, that she’s already starting to feel a little, you know, less happier than usual. She doesn’t have her usual tone that she usually has. And her mom is able to tell that. Even when I was with her and she made the phone call to her mom, you know, Rosa Maria has a—she’s been in hospitals, in and out, so many times because of different other medical difficulties, that she kind of hides, you know, feeling like—when she doesn’t feel well. And her is able to tell that right away, and the detention center won’t. And so, it’s been really challenging having her there, because her mom knows her so well, that it’s hard to know really how she’s doing.

And she’s due for a doctor’s appointment on November 2nd. We’re hoping—we’re building actions on November 1st to ask ICE, and we’re asking, you know, to have her released immediately, so that she can go to her doctor’s appointment on November 2nd.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, why can’t her mother visit? I mean, they came to this country—what?—10 years ago?

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Maria came here when she was three months old—she’s now 10—with cerebral palsy?

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right. Her mom can’t visit her, because she’s undocumented. And her—she would have to cross the checkpoint again to see her daughter in San Antonio, where she’s being held. And so she cannot see her, because that would put her immediately into deportation proceedings.

AMY GOODMAN: And again, crossing the checkpoint, that’s within the United States. The family lives—

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —in the United States. There are just a number of checkpoints, for people to understand outside of Texas, in Texas when you drive around.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Priscila Martinez, I want to thank you so much for being with us.

PRISCILA MARTINEZ: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: A Texas Immigration Coalition coordinator, among those calling for immigration authorities to release 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez back to her family. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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