Former immigration official decries girl's detention after surgery

Posted at 2:20 PM, Oct 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-30 14:20:06-04

SAN ANTONIO, TX (KSAT/CNN) - A former top immigration official choked back tears as he watched the treatment of a 10-year-old undocumented immigrant.

Rosamaria Hernandez has cerebral palsy - but she was still detained by Border Patrol agents Thursday after she had surgery.

Former Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy director Alonzo Pena had to compose himself after watching a video of Border Patrol agents escorting Rosamaria from Corpus Christi's Driscoll Children's Hospital, the same hospital where Pena's son died.

"It's totally unnecessary, just not necessary to do that," he said. "She could have been given a notice to appear. She was just getting out of the hospital having surgery, and they're going to put her in a detention facility. It's just not right."

Rosamaria was brought to the U.S. by her parents from Mexico when she was 3 months old.

Border Agents stopped an ambulance that was taking her to the hospital for gallbladder surgery on Tuesday.

Family members said the agents allowed her to have the procedure but took her away after she woke up.

She is now in a refugee shelter, and a family attorney said it's unclear what's next for her.

Pena said even though Hernandez is undocumented, the Border Patrol's presence at the hospital was intrusive and unnecessary.

"Those agents should be out on the line stopping drugs, stopping gang members, protecting national security, not doing this to a 10-year-old girl who has just come out of surgery and has other medical issues," Pena said.

Hernandez has cerebral palsy, and the family says she has the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. 

"I don't think she understands what actually is going to happen to her, that she's not going to be able to see her family," Pena said.

She has cousins who are U.S. citizens, but she is not being released to them.

Instead, she was taken here from the hospital to a government licensed shelter in San Antonio.

"It's a status violation," Pena said. "She's not a criminal. This from what I'm understanding, she'd being treated almost as a criminal."

A statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in part, "Safe and timely release of unaccompanied minors to qualified parents, guardians, relatives or other adults, referred to as 'sponsors' must occur within a setting that promotes public safety and ensures sponsors are able to provide for. the physical and mental well being of the child."

The Department of Health and Human Services said all office of refugee resettlement facilities offer and fund health care for those in custody. That includes any special needs, mental health or medical concerns. 

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