Oscar and Irma Sanchez were arrested in May by ICE after no hospital in the Rio Grande Valley – where the couple lives – could perform the life-saving surgery on their son Isaac Enrique Sanchez, who was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis.
Pyloric stenosis causes vomiting, dehydration and weight loss in infants and can be potentially fatal.
The Sanchez’s were told their son’s condition was curable with surgery, but no pediatric team in the Rio Grande Valley had a team capable of performing the surgery.
So Oscar and Irma would have to take Isaac to the Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, a couple hours up the highway, for surgery in order for him to have surgery to cure the condition.
The two-hour trip would require them to pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint.
“The nurse told us we had to go there,” Oscar told NPR in Spanish.
“We said we couldn’t go.”
As they weighed their circumstances in a hospital in Harlingen, Texas, a Border Patrol agent made contact with them in the waiting room and told the couple he could arrange for officers to escort them through the checkpoint to Corpus Christi.
But the agent informed them that when they arrived, they would be arrested and placed into deportation proceedings.
The couple agreed.
Oscar Sanchez told NPR he suspects a nurse called them in.
Once at the Corpus Christi hospital, immigration agents kept constant surveillance on the couple for 48-hours.
Agents tailed the Oscar to the restroom and the cafeteria and requested Irma leave the door open when she breast fed Isaac.
“Everywhere we went in the hospital,” Oscar recalled, “they followed us.”
Then both were arrested and booked separately at the border patrol station.
The couple asked doctors to delay Isaac’s surgery until both of them could be present at the hospital.
They were granted permission and Isaac received the operation.
It was a success.
“Thank the Lord, everything went well,” Irma told NPR.
“He still throws up a little milk, but thank God he’s fine.”
National Immigrant Justice Center attorney Lisa Koop said she couldn’t understand why the couple, who has no prior criminal history was followed into the hospital and placed in deportation proceedings.
“I can’t pretend to understand any reasoning that would have led anyone up the chain of command to think that Irma and Oscar were flight risks or dangers to the community or in any other way people who needed to be followed into a hospital in order to be placed in deportation proceedings,” she said.
Critics expressed confusion about why the Sanchezes were put under such intense scrutiny from border patrol agents, which they argue should be reserved for drug traffickers or gang members.
Democrats in Congress were outraged by what happened to the Sanchez family and responded by proposing the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, which would legislate protected places into federal law, including hospitals, courthouses and bus stops.
“They’re pushing the envelope to the point where they’re trying to find out how far they can go,” said Congressman Jose E. Serrano, one of the bill’s authors.
“It violates human decency,” he said.
“You don’t interrupt medical procedures.”