Immigration Advocates Warn Undocumented Are ‘Fair Game’ After Detention of Texas Child

Immigration Advocates Warn Undocumented Are ‘Fair Game’ After Detention of Texas Child

The arrest of Rosa Maria Hernandez, an undocumented ten-year-old with cerebral palsy, by Customs and Border Protections, after she received emergency gallbladder surgery in a Texas hospital is a heinous example of the dark turn immigration enforcement has taken under Donald Trump.

Marissa Montes, an immigration attorney with the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles says that Rosa Maria’s arrest sends the message to undocumented people that “anyone is fair game: Regardless of whether you have a criminal record, under the Trump administration, you are considered an enforcement priority.”

The child is not the first undocumented person arrested at a hospital, or even at Driscoll’s Children Hospital. Earlier this summer, Oscar and Irma Sanchez, the undocumented parents of an American-born infant were arrested at the same hospital as their child underwent surgery. Other undocumented people have been arrested at public facilities as ICE has stepped up its enforcement efforts, including a father who was dropping his daughter off at school and a woman who was detained after seeking a protective order from domestic abuse at a courthouse.

During the first three months of the Trump presidency, ICE arrested 20,000 undocumented people, a 30 percent increase over the same period in 2016. Revisions to Department of Homeland Security guidelines, made during Trump’s first month in office, have produced the spike in arrests by expanding the categories of people considered a “priority for removal.”

In the waning years of the Obama administration, undocumented people with criminal backgrounds who posed a threat to public safety were the focus of deportation efforts. The Trump DHS has moved to deport any undocumented person with any kind of record, including minor infractions.

These rule changes essentially make every undocumented person in the U.S. a deportation target, because they have all technically broken the law by crossing the border illegally. Rosa Maria’s arrest was not a mistake: Under DHS rules, she is a priority for deportation.

Montes tells The American Prospect that under previous administrations—and even during Obama’s first term, when total deportations peaked—ICE agents didn’t make arrests in schools, hospitals, courts, or places of worship. This changed under Trump, despite pleas by local officials who say detaining undocumented people at courthouses created a chilling effect that has caused a drop in reports of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, argues that if DHS “is really interested in keeping the homeland secure, they should be spending every dollar available on public security threats.”

During the early Obama years, more undocumented people were deported per year than under any other president in history. But in 2014, President Obama directed DHS to prioritize threats to public safety and deportations declined thereafter. The Trump administration has reversed that trend. Instead, ICE and CPB now spend their time prowling around courthouses and checking the documents of people in ambulances en route to hospitals. While Trump officials growl about the threat that undocumented people pose to public safety, they seem less interested in responding to real public safety issues, like the circumstances that allowed a gunman commit mayhem in Las Vegas, than they are in making all undocumented people fear for their own safety, and proving that no one—not even a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy needing emergency surgery—is out of the reach of immigration agents.