Bishops question detention of child with cerebral palsy


Enforcement of immigration laws should be humane, target criminals, not patients seeking surgery

AUSTIN – The case of an undocumented 10-year-old who was stopped by federal agents on her way to emergency surgery highlights the need for clarification of local and federal law enforcement agents’ responsibilities in securing the United States’ borders.

Rosa Maria Hernandez, 10, who has cerebral palsy and has lived in the United States since she was a few months old, was detained and held by federal agents in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Oct. 10, on her way to a Corpus Christi hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery. After the surgery she was taken from her family and placed in a juvenile detention center in San Antonio. On Thursday she was released into the custody of the federal Office of Refugees and Resettlement (ORR).

“While we are grateful Rosa Maria is now in the care of ORR, and should be reunited soon with her family, there is no reason why she should have had to undergo such trauma while she was in need of medical care,” said Bishop James Tamayo of the Laredo Diocese. “I am saddened and appalled that Border Patrol agents are stopping ambulances from transporting children to hospitals,” said Bishop Tamayo. “This action is not humane. It also shows why people are afraid of law enforcement agents and why we need greater protection for locales identified by ICE as ‘sensitive locations,’ such as schools, places of worship and hospitals.”

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, in whose archdiocese Rosa Maria is now being detained, stated, “I have reached out to the proper authorities and it is my hope to meet with Rosa Maria and her family as soon as possible. Fear is the overarching emotion encompassing this tragic situation; obviously the fear and bewilderment being felt at this time by Rosa Maria and her family, but also the fear that must be felt by some who view an ill 10-year-old as a type of threat to the security and safety of our country.”

The local federal administration officials in this case appeared to disregard their own policies. A memo from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (ICE) reads, "The policies provide that enforcement actions at or focused on sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, and hospitals should generally be avoided, and that such actions may only take place when (a) prior approval is obtained from an appropriate supervisory official, or (b) there are exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action without supervisor approval." The placement of DHS officers within the hospital is contrary to the intent of the sensitive locations memo and undermines community trust.

The enforcement of immigration law is within the rights of a sovereign nation, but such laws, at a minimum, should be consistent with the Constitution of the United States, and enforcement should provide punishments which are proportional to an offense. A child with physical disabilities who has lived in the United States almost her entire life should not be treated as a criminal or a threat to U.S. security. This case further highlights the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform, which the bishops have consistently supported.