A mother and father who faced deportation after U.S. Border Patrol agents initiated removal proceedings at a Texas hospital received good news recently.
In May 2017, Irma Francisca Quiñones and Oscar Enrique Sanchez took their then-2-month-old son to a hospital emergency room in South Texas, where they learned he needed to be transferred to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi for emergency surgery. Quiñones and Sanchez told hospital staff they could not travel with their son because they were undocumented and would have to pass an immigration checkpoint to reach Corpus Christi. These checkpoints are common in the border region and can be up to 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
After Quiñones and Sanchez disclosed their immigration status, a hospital nurse contacted the Border Patrol. Agents came to the hospital, placed them under arrest, and followed the ambulance in which Quiñones, Sanchez and their baby were riding to Corpus Christi. After arriving at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, while their son waited for surgery, Quiñones and Sanchez were taken to a Border Patrol station and processed individually for deportation. Two weeks later they received their court date to begin deportation proceedings.
“We were confused, worried and scared,” Quiñones recalled in September 2017. “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 are parents to three daughters and a son. All their children are U.S. citizens.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) became involved when Quiñones and Sanchez called a friend from the ambulance. That friend consulted Ana Alicia Hinojosa, immigration coordinator with MCC Central States who works out of Brownsville, Texas. MCC helped the couple get legal support through National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).
The case was particularly alarming because the actions of the Border Patrol agents violated their own policies restricting enforcement actions at “sensitive locations” such as hospitals, schools and places of worship.
“We became involved in this case when our partners at MCC sounded the alarm about immigration enforcement happening in hospitals,” said Lisa Koop, attorney with NIJC. “We recognized that though the circumstances of Irma and Oscar’s arrest were egregious, they qualified for a defense against deportation that could help them finally regularize their status and gain permanent residence.
“Our legal team travelled to south Texas in December 2017 to put their case before an immigration judge,” said Koop. “At the end of the court hearing, the judge was unable to render a decision and it was not until nearly 11 months later – in November 2018 – that the order granting the case arrived by mail.
“The judge granted Irma and Oscar permanent residency through a form of relief called ‘Cancellation of Removal’ because she found that their children would experience serious hardship if their parents were deported,” Koop said. “The judge gave great weight to the fact that the older children are thriving in school, where they are honors students and are involved in extracurricular activities. The evidence Irma and Oscar provided, including many letters of support from extended family members, neighbors, members of their church, and other friends, were instrumental in demonstrating to the judge that Irma and Oscar should be allowed to stay.”
In a Dec. 21, 2018, interview with National Public Radio (NPR), when asked how their son is doing by now, Quiñones said, “He is doing well, growing every day and very mischievous, healthy and very intelligent.” She added that their middle daughter formerly spoke of being a marine biologist, “but now that we have gone through this, she says she wants to be an attorney.” (The NPR audio story and its transcript are available online.)
“We are so happy that everything in our case came out good,” Sanchez told NPR. “But sometimes it seems that the odds are stacked up against us or people in our similar situation.” He thanked MCC, NJIC and others for the help they received.
Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for domestic affairs for the MCC U.S. Washington Office, welcomed the outcome for Quiñones and Sanchez, but noted that most families in similar situations do not have such a fortunate outcome. “Thousands of parents of young children like Irma and Oscar, many of whom have been in the U.S since they were children themselves, and most with no option to legalize their status, are being torn away from their families by detention and deportation,” she said. “More advocacy is needed to push for humane and sensible immigration laws.”
Hinojosa attended court proceedings with Quiñones and Sanchez several times and met with the family on numerous occasions throughout their journey. “I consider Oscar and Irma to be like family to me!” she said. Now, she is looking forward to another joyous occasion: “I’m ready to celebrate with them when their green cards arrive in the mail.”
Find more information online about MCC U.S. advocacy efforts regarding immigration, including ways to be involved.
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Tina Schrag is communications coordinator for MCC Central States. Some content is from “MCC walks with undocumented couple targeted for deportation at hospital” by Linda Espenshade, Sept. 21, 2017. Quotes from the National Public Radio (NPR) interview are used by permission of NPR.