When Irma and Oscar’s baby became violently ill, they rushed him to the hospital. When they finally returned home with their child, now recovering from surgery, they carried with them notices to appear in immigration court for deportation proceedings. This afternoon Irma and Oscar bravely shared their story on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is proud to represent Irma and Oscar as they fight to remain in the United States with their family and community. We are saddened and appalled by what our government has forced their family to endure.
Irma and Oscar sought emergency medical treatment for their baby in a Texas emergency room in May. They disclosed their undocumented status to hospital staff when they learned their son required transfer across an immigration checkpoint to another hospital. Before they knew it, immigration officers appeared at the hospital and interrogated them. Officers waited outside their hospital room overnight. The next morning as their baby lay in a hospital room awaiting surgery, immigration agents took Irma and Oscar from the hospital one at a time for arrest, processing, and to issue charging documents placing them in deportation proceedings.
Irma and Oscar have lived in Texas for more than 10 years. They care for their four U.S. citizen children and support Irma’s parents, long-time green card holders, who struggle with chronic health issues. They are beloved members of their community. When their child became ill, they trusted that our nation’s shared values and commitment to compassion would protect them as they protected their child. When immigration agents took them away from the hospital where their baby lay ill, that trust was shattered.
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) actions in Oscar’s and Irma’s cases are blatant violations of the agency’s own policy to avoid enforcement actions against sensitive locations including hospitals. We are saddened, but we are not surprised. Emboldened by hateful rhetoric at the highest levels of our government, DHS’s enforcement operations now are conducted against a backdrop of contempt toward immigrant communities. These actions have enduring consequences. We must do everything we can to ensure ours does not become a nation where parents are too frightened to seek emergency medical care for their children.
Fortunately, many Americans already are stepping up to defend the Sanchez family and other immigrants who may be in their shoes. Soon after Irma and Oscar's ordeal, their community members contacted the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which in turn contacted NIJC. Our organizations have worked together to ensure the family has local support and legal advocates as they fight deportation. The problem also has gotten the attention of lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Members of Congress have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would codify DHS’s sensitive locations policy in law, ensuring that families are not afraid to go to the hospital, to school, to court, or to church. We are grateful to Congressman Jose Serrano, an original co-sponsor of this legislation in the House of Representatives, who submitted a letter (along with 84 of his Congressional colleagues as signatories) to Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke decrying her agency’s unconscionable actions in the Sanchez case and imploring her to respect the sensitive locations memo. In addition, Senator Blumenthal led a letter from 20 Senators urging DHS to respect the sensitive locations memo and issued a follow up letter one month later after ICE detained a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was recovering in the hospital from surgery.
All of us, regardless of immigration status or country of birth, deserve the basic dignity inherent in knowing that engaging in day-to-day activities to protect our loved ones--obtaining emergency medical services, going to court, going to school, praying in church--will not put us at risk. NIJC stands with the Sanchez family and decries DHS’s decision to undermine this most basic trust.
We urge Acting DHS Secretary Duke to publicly recommit to her agency’s policy regarding enforcement in sensitive locations. We invite our fellow Americans to call on all Members of Congress to support the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act and other legislation to protect immigrant communities.
Call your members of Congress through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to support the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act and decrease funding for immigration enforcement NOW.
Heidi Altman is NIJC's Director of Policy.