Updated at 8 p.m. ET
Immigrant advocates are protesting the Border Patrol's apprehension this week of a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy in the country illegally, after she was operated on at a Texas hospital.
Federal immigration officers intercepted the child as she and an adult cousin, who is a U.S. citizen, were in an ambulance being transferred between two hospitals so that she could receive emergency gallbladder surgery.
Rosa Maria Hernandez was brought to the United States illegally from Mexico in 2007 when she was 3 months old, according to her mother, Felipa de la Cruz, to get access to better medical care. The family lives in Laredo, Texas, and all are undocumented.
The girl was traveling in an ambulance — accompanied by her cousin — to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi on Tuesday when federal immigration officers stopped the vehicle at a checkpoint.
The Border Patrol agents followed the ambulance to the hospital. According to the family's lawyer, Leticia Gonzalez, the agents insisted the door to her hospital room be left open at all times to keep an eye on her.
On Wednesday, the hospital discharged Rosa Maria. The lawyer, reading the discharge papers on a conference call with reporters, said doctors recommended the child be released to "a family member who is familiar with her medical and psychological needs."
But officers decided to transport the girl to a government-contracted juvenile shelter in San Antonio, 150 miles from Laredo, and put her into deportation proceedings.
The Border Patrol defends its actions at the checkpoint, the hospital and the youth shelter. Dan Hetlage, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, says throughout the two-day incident, agents were just enforcing federal immigration law.
"The agent is wrong if he lets her go. We don't have the discretion. It's not a traffic ticket. We follow the letter of the law," he said.
"It's frustrating for us," he continued, "I'm a human being. The agents are trying to do their job as humanely as possible."
The Border Patrol defends its agents, saying they escorted Rosa Maria to the children's hospital to ensure she received appropriate medical care and then processed her according to U.S. immigration laws.
Immigrant advocates are calling it the latest outrage under President Trump's aggressive immigration enforcement.
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio condemned the agents' actions, saying they treated the sick girl like "a hardened convict" when she posed "no threat to national security. ... This apprehension occurred despite the fact that the sensitive locations policy is still in effect. And remember they were staked outside the hospital room."
Officers are discouraged from conducting enforcement actions at or near so-called sensitive locations unless the arrest is related to national security, terrorism or public safety. More than 100 Democrats in Congress have demanded that the Department of Homeland Security rein in immigration agents making an increasing number of arrests at or near hospitals, churches and schools.
The Border Patrol insists it apprehended Rosa Maria at the checkpoint, not the hospital, and the checkpoint is not considered a sensitive location.
Astrid Dominguez, of the ACLU of Texas, says, "Rosa Maria shouldn't spend one more day away from her parents. We are outraged that the Trump administration and Border Patrol would go after a child like Rosa Maria."
In an open letter addressed to the Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary, Elaine Duke, the advocacy group DreamActivist says Rosa Maria was told "she has two options; sign voluntary departure or spend up to 3 weeks in detention."
"Families should not have to decide between getting life saving help, or being deported," the group said in the letter.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Immigration officials have detained a 10-year-old girl after she had an emergency operation this week at a children's hospital in Texas. The child is being held in a government-run juvenile center, and she faces deportation. NPR's John Burnett reports the case is sparking outrage.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Rosamaria Hernandez has cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities and recurring medical problems. She lives with her parents in Laredo, Texas. All three are from Mexico and undocumented. On Tuesday, they faced an agonizing predicament. Doctors wanted to send Rosamaria to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi for an emergency gallbladder operation. But the only way to get there is past a Border Patrol checkpoint, so the parents opted not to go. Instead, they sent an adult cousin, who's a U.S. citizen, in the ambulance with their daughter.
At the checkpoint, Border Patrol agents discovered Rosamaria is in the country illegally, so they followed the ambulance on to the hospital. According to the family's lawyer, the agents insisted the door to her hospital room be kept open at all times to keep an eye on her. On Wednesday, the hospital discharged Rosamaria. The lawyer, Leticia Gonzalez, reading the discharge papers, said doctors recommended the child be released to, quote, "a family member who is familiar with her medical and psychological needs." But agents decided to transport her to a government-contracted juvenile shelter in San Antonio.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
FELIPA DE LA CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).
BURNETT: "It's difficult when I start to think about her," said her mother, Felipa de la Cruz, on a conference call from Laredo. "I become sad and desperate." The lawyer who visited Rosamaria describes her mental state as confused. Daniel Hetlage, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, says throughout the two-day incident, agents were just enforcing federal immigration law. It's frustrating for us, he said. I'm a human being. The agents are trying to do their job as humanely as possible. Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio, condemned the agent's actions.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOAQUIN CASTRO: This apprehension occurred despite the fact that the sensitive locations policy is still in effect. And remember; they were staked outside her hospital room.
BURNETT: More than a hundred Democrats in Congress have demanded the Department of Homeland Security rein in agents who are making more and more arrests at or near hospitals, churches and schools. Officers are discouraged from conducting enforcement actions at these so-called sensitive locations unless the arrest is related to national security, terrorism or public safety. The CBP spokesman insists they apprehended Rosamaria Hernandez at the checkpoint, which is not a sensitive location. John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.