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Undocumented Parents Arrested While Waiting for Baby's Operation

The couple was forced to choose between medical care for their baby and the risk of deportation

Published on: September 21, 2017


It sounds like something out of a nightmare: Two parents arrested in a Texas hospital while awaiting their infant's surgery. But that's exactly what happened to Irma and Oscar Sanchez in a Texas hospital earlier this year. Their crime? Living as undocumented immigrants.

Today, Isaac Enrique Sanchez is a healthy baby living with his parents and four siblings in North Brownsville, Texas. But in May, Irma and Oscar Sanchez learned their 2-month-old infant needed surgery for pyloric stenosis, a condition that causes dehydration, vomiting and weight loss in infants. They were told they would have to go to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, because there wasn’t a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley where they lived that could perform the surgery. 

The Sanchezes are a hardworking, law-abiding couple. Oscar works in construction and landscaping and Irma stays home with their children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. Neither has a criminal record, but they overstayed their visitors’ visas that were issued 12 years ago.

That's all it took to put them in the crosshairs of stricter immigration enforcement under President Trump. When they were told Isaac’s surgery would have to be performed in Corpus Christi, they knew it meant crossing a Border Patrol checkpoint and risking arrest.

Before they could decide what to do, someone at the hospital alerted the authorities. A Border Patrol agent arrived at the hospital where their son was being treated and offered a deal: Officers would escort the parents and their sick infant through the checkpoint to Corpus Christi, but once there, they would be arrested and deportation proceedings would begin. The couple did what any parent would do: They said yes. But it's a choice no parent should ever have to make.

Neither has a criminal record, but they overstayed their visitors’ visas that were issued 12 years ago.

Under President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security adopted a policy that advises agents to avoid enforcement actions in certain “sensitive locations,” including schools, churches, religious and civil ceremonies, public demonstrations and medical facilities. The policy has a caveat that allows enforcement actions to occur in limited circumstances “with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official, or if the enforcement action involves exigent circumstances.”

Since President Trump took office, however, immigration officials have routinely targeted undocumented immigrants in sensitive locations, including schools, courthouses, hospitals and churches. 

An ambulance carrying the Sanchez family was escorted to Corpus Christi as promised. Border Patrol agents never left the couple alone once they arrived at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, following Oscar to the cafeteria and bathroom and requiring Irma to leave the door open when she nursed her baby. "Everywhere we went in the hospital, they followed us,” Oscar Sanchez told NPR. While Customs and Border Protection defend their actions as doing their job “in the least restrictive manner possible,” it’s unclear why the Sanchezes were targeted in a sensitive location.

Irma and Oscar Sanchez have a court date with an immigration judge in December. Lisa Koop, a lawyer with the National Immigrant Justice Center, plans to ask that the Sanchezes be allowed to stay in the U.S. with their children. 

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