MCC tries to keep family from being torn apart

Undocumented couple targeted for deportation at hospital in Texas

Oct 8, 2017 by and

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Mennonite Central Committee is supporting a mother and father who face deportation after U.S. Border Patrol agents initiated removal proceedings at a Texas hospital where the couple sought emergency care for their infant.

The agents’ actions violate the federal government’s policy prohibiting immigration enforcement actions at “sensitive locations,” including hospitals, according to Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

MCC is working with the NIJC to support the couple.

In May, Irma Francisca Qui­nones Alamillo and Oscar Enrique Sanchez Islas brought their 2-month-old son to the emergency room at Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, Texas, because he had been vomiting and not sleeping for days. Doctors said he needed to be transferred to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi for emergency surgery.

Before the transfer could happen, two agents confronted Quinones and Sanchez about their immigration status. The agents came after the couple told a nurse they could not drive to Driscoll because they would likely be detained if they passed through an immigration checkpoint in Sarita.

When the agents insisted on proceeding with immigration processing, the couple pleaded to be allowed to go with their son to Driscoll.

“We were confused, worried and scared,” Quinones said. “We did not understand what was going to happen to us and if they would bring us back to see our son and if we would be able to return to our daughters.”

The married couple have three daughters and a son. All their children are U.S. citizens.

Praying for help

Agents allowed the family to go to Corpus Christi but followed the ambulance carrying the parents and their son to the hospital. There agents removed each parent individually to be interviewed and given a notice to appear in court, the beginning of deportation proceedings.

“When I was placed in a detaining cell at the Border Patrol station, I thought I am not going to see my family for a long time,” Sanchez said. “I was overwhelmed with feelings of despair. The only thing that gave me peace was that I knew God was in control.”

Quinones, too, looked to God for help.

“I prayed the entire time that I was there, asking God to move the hearts of the agents to allow us to return home to be with our family and for me to make it back in time to see my son before going to surgery,” she said.

Doctors delayed the son’s surgery until federal agents returned both parents to the hospital, Quinones said. The surgery was successful, and the boy has been recovering at home.

“This situation raises serious concerns that federal agents are ignoring their own policy in this matter,” said Tammy Alexander, policy analyst for the MCC U.S. Washington Office. “It could lead to parents all over the country being afraid to take a child to the hospital.”

MCC became involved in the situation when Quinones and Sanchez called a friend for help from the ambulance. At 2 a.m., that friend consulted Ana Hinojosa, an immigration coordinator with MCC Central States who works out of Brownsville, Texas.

Since then, Hinojosa has helped the couple get legal support through the NIJC. Attorney Lisa Koop will argue their case in December.

“We are outraged at the manner by which this family was placed in deportation proceedings, and we are committed to ensuring they receive the strongest possible defense against removal,” Koop said.

Children’s fears

MCC and the NIJC are supporting legislation in Congress to strengthen currently nonbinding policy regarding sensitive locations and codify it into law. The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act has 41 cosponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate.

“As I sat with the family and saw the fear in their eyes and tears rolling down their faces, I thought about the injustice that is happening in our country,” Hinojosa said. “The United States is known as the land of opportunity. This family and many others came here in search of that better life.”

Quinones said her daughters talk every day about what will happen if they get separated.

“Our children are experiencing . . . what it is like to live every day not knowing if their parents will be home when they return from school,” she said. “We have felt a despair and and anxiety in these past months that we would not wish on anyone.”

Hinojosa feels their despair and appeals for policies that recognize the humanity of people affected by immigration laws.

“At MCC we call Christians across the nation to advocate for fair and compassionate treatment of immigrants as we follow Jesus’ instructions to love your neighbor as you love yourself,” she said.


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