Members of Congress Upset Over South Texas ICE Detention Case

An undocumented couple faces deportation despite protections in place for immigrants in hospitals, churches, community centers and schools.

September 20, 2017 3:38 pm

Immigration officials have long maintained a policy that designates certain places as sensitive locations, meaning that in most cases, they are off limits for arresting undocumented immigrants. These places include churches, schools and hospitals. But as NPR’s John Burnett says, there’s a case in South Texas that has lawmakers in Washington concerned.

Oscar Sanchez and Irma Quinones are an undocumented couple that live north of Brownsville. Their two-month-old son Issac Enrique Sanchez had a condition known as pyloric stenosis. With pyloric stenosis, the muscles in part of the stomach enlarge, preventing food from moving from the stomach to the intestine. The forceful vomiting caused by pyloric stenosis can cause dehydration, which can be dangerous and usually requires surgery.

The hospital they initially visited in far south Texas was unable to perform the necessary procedure, and told the couple they needed to take Issac to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi for treatment. The border patrol checkpoint on the highway en route to Corpus Christi made the trip a dilemma for Sanchez and Quinones.

A border patrol agent approached the couple after the conversation and informed them that they would escort them through the checkpoint, but would then have to arrest them and put them through deportation proceedings.

Upon reaching the hospital, the family was immediately separated. Sanchez and Quinones were taken to the border patrol station to begin the deportation proceedings.

“The father told me in an interview we asked the medical team would you delay the operation on our infant child until the border patrol is finished with us?” Burnett says.

The doctors agreed, and the couple was able to make it back later that day to wait at the hospital for the procedure to be performed.

Border patrol is not supposed to make arrests or apprehensions in hospitals, however they informed Burnett in an email that they did not arrest the couple at the hospital, instead taking them to the border patrol station nearby to arrest them.

“Several members of Congress, all Democrats, had introduced a bill earlier this year called the ‘Protecting Sensitive Locations Act’ which would have codified these in law,” Burnett says.

There is concern that protection for locations like hospitals is slowly disappearing, Burnett says. The legislation proposed by members of Congress would add courthouses and bus stops to the list of protected locations.

The same members of Congress are very upset at what they see as an egregious violation of the Sensitive Location Act.

The family, fortunately, is fine. The operation was a success, they have returned to Brownsville with Issac in tow, and are awaiting hearings before an immigration judge.

John Burnett’s full report on this story will air Wednesday afternoon on “All Things Considered.”


Written by Nahila Bonfiglio.