Rosamaria Hernandez was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance for emergency gallbladder surgery, but federal immigration agents followed her there and placed the undocumented child in detention once she was treated and released. Now, the 10-year-old girl, who has been separated from her family, has become a flashpoint in the debate over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies as activists circulate her story and picture.
The organization DreamActivist.org shared the child’s photo and her story through a petition demanding that DHS Secretary Elaine Duke release the child from Border Patrol custody. “I write to demand the immediate release of Rosamaria from Border Patrol custody. I am absolutely shocked that your agents would go after an undocumented child, and follow her 150 miles to the hospital, as she heads in for an emergency surgery,” the petition contends. In some news accounts the child is called Rosa Maria Hernandez, but the petition uses Rosamaria.
According to CNN, immigration officials defend their actions, saying that they followed procedure, but Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, joined activists in criticizing Trump’s administration, arguing that the child poses no threat to national security. On November 3, “The attorney for Rosa Maria Hernandez, an illegal immigrant suffering from cerebral palsy, said she will be released from the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement despite a federal court ruling cancelling a hearing next week.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Activist Group Says That Rosamaria Was Spotted at a Border Patrol Checkpoint & Agents Were Stationed Outside Her Hospital Room
The emergency trip to the hospital for gallbladder surgery is what put the child on the radar of border patrol agents. In its petition, DreamActivist.org says that Rosamaria, “who was born with Cerebral Palsy, has been living in the United States since she was just 3-months old. It was determined by Driscoll’s Children Hospital in Laredo that she was in need of an emergency gall bladder surgery, and she was set to be transferred to Driscoll’s Children hospital in Corpus Christi.”
That’s where the border patrol discovered her, the petition reports. “CBP agents detained Rosamaria at the border patrol check-point, despite her traveling in an ambulance with a U.S. citizen family member,” the petition claims. “Border Patrol agents are now posted outside of Rosa Maria’s door at the hospital in Corpus Christi, and have told her 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. I write to ask that you immediately release Rosa Maria from Border Patrol custody, and that you stop threatening 10 year old children with deportation.”
CNN confirmed with the family’s attorney that Rosamaria and her cousin were stopped at a checkpoint, saying, “Border patrol agents determined that Rosa Maria was undocumented and followed the pair to the hospital, where the girl underwent surgery.” According to CNN, “Customs and Border Protection runs checkpoints along major thoroughfares leading away from the border in the Southwest, where travelers and vehicles are checked for legal authorization to enter the United States.”
2. Rosamaria’s Mother Is ‘Fighting to Get Her Back’
Rosa Maria’s mother has been outspoken since her daughter was taken from her. “The mother of a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was detained by Border Patrol agents after undergoing surgery is fighting to get her back,” ABC News reported. ABC reports that Rosa Maria has been placed in a shelter “in San Antonio, Texas, that her family said is not equipped to care for her.”
Her mother, Felipe De La Cruz, spoke to reporters through a translator in a tear-filled phone call and said: “It’s painful for me to know that my daughter is there and I can’t help her. I would like to have her near me so I could be the one who is helping her and supporting her right now when she needs me the most. But it’s difficult — when I start to think about her, I start to get sad and I start to become desperate.”
The family’s lawyer told reporters that doctors advised that the girl be released to family. “Doctors recommended the child be released to “a family member who is familiar with her medical and psychological needs,” according to NPR, quoting the attorney. According to San Antonio Current, Rosa Maria is in “a shelter for undocumented immigrant children in San Antonio, where she is awaiting deportation.”
3. Rosamaria’s Family Came to the United States in 2007 & Medicaid Paid For Her Treatment
Rosamaria has lived in the United States since she was an infant. “De La Cruz said she and her husband came to the U.S. in 2007 to give their children better opportunities and obtain better medical care for Rosa Maria, who was three months old at the time,” ABC News reported. According to NPR, “The family lives in Laredo, Texas, and all are undocumented.”
According to the New York Times, federal benefits have paid for Rosamaria’s care in the United States. The family came to Texas from “Nuevo Laredo, the city in Mexico just across the border from Laredo, when her daughter was still an infant, hoping to get better treatment for her cerebral palsy,” the newspaper reported, adding that Medicaid paid for Rosa Maria’s treatment in the United States, including “home visits from therapists.”
The family was candid about Rosa Maria’s status during the ambulance ride, according to the San Antonio Current. “Aurora Cantu, Rosa Maria’s cousin, gave Border Patrol agents a letter explaining that Rosa Maria was undocumented and needed to be transported for the surgery. Rosa Maria, who has lived in Laredo, Texas since she was three months old, is not a citizen, but Cantu is. Border Patrol agents followed them to the hospital the rest of the way,” the news site reported.
The case is unusual.
According to The New York Times, “It is rare, if not unheard-of, for a child already living in the United States to be arrested — particularly one with a serious medical condition.” Thus, the case has focused on President Donald Trump’s enforcement strategy for immigration laws, with activists saying it causes humanitarian concerns. Immigration arrests are up 40 percent under Trump, the newspaper reported.
4. The Border Patrol Says It Was Following the ‘Letter of the Law’
The U.S. Border Patrol has defended the detention, saying that Rosamaria is in violation of federal immigration laws because she is undocumented. Dan Hetlage, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, indicated that “agents were just enforcing federal immigration law,” reports NPR.
“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 to the public radio network. “It’s frustrating for us I’m a human being. The agents are trying to do their job as humanely as possible.”
Rep. Castro, though, was among those strongly criticizing the federal government, writing that a “sick 10-year-old girl should not be a @DHSgov priority.” He accused the Trump administration of ripping an ailing child from her family to send her to a detention shelter alone.
5. A Hashtag in Rosamaria’s Name Went Viral As People Expressed Outrage, Although Some Defended the Border Patrol
On social media, people expressed outrage over the little girl’s treatment, with many arguing that it’s not congruent with President Trump’s rhetoric to justify harder line immigration tactics. “Please explain to me how a 10-year old girl with cerebral palsy is a threat to our nation 😒 #rosamariahernandez,” wrote one woman.”
Others felt the child’s detention should be a bigger story. One person wrote, “News media are covering #RosamariaHernandez story some, but not w outrage we reserve for horrific outrageous news WHY ISN’T THIS MORE KNOWN? She’s 10 years old.” Others, though, didn’t like the fact that American taxpayers had been paying for the child’s medical care. “#RosamariaHernandez THIS case alone proves us correct… MEXICO uses us for resources… we are a free medical clinic. DEPORT,” wrote one Twitter user. Another wrote, “#RosamariaHernandez we are a country of laws. ICE doesn’t get to decide who stays & leaves. If here illegally, must leave until law amended.”
Others pointed out that a child who is sick is clearly no threat to national security. “Trump says ‘we’re getting the bad dudes out,’ so why in the fuc was ICE waiting outside a 10yr old girls hospital room. #RosamariaHernandez,” wrote another comment writer. Wrote another: “This is morally bankrupt & unspeakably cruel. This IS the trump admin. #RosamariaHernandez is not a criminal. She’s little girl, who is sick.”
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