(Bloomberg View) -- There is no conceivable explanation, save one, for the chain of events that has landed 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez in a Texas detention center, away from her family, while she recovers from emergency gallbladder surgery. The only explanation is cruelty.
Rosa Maria, who has cerebral palsy, was en route last week from Laredo, Texas, where her family lives, to a hospital in Corpus Christi when her ambulance was stopped at an immigration enforcement checkpoint. Because she and her parents are undocumented immigrants -- the family came to the U.S. when she was 3 months old -- Rosa Maria was accompanied by an adult cousin who is a U.S. citizen.
Rather than wave the ambulance through and resume their search for the “bad hombres” who President Donald Trump promised would be the focus of his administration’s immigration enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents first sought to persuade Rosa Maria’s guardian to take her to a hospital in Mexico. When that failed, they followed the ambulance to Corpus Christi, a distance of some 80 miles. At the hospital, agents were on guard outside Rosa Maria’s room.
When Rosa Maria was fit to travel, U.S. agents then drove her more than 100 miles to a San Antonio detention center for unaccompanied minors. The government has refused to release her to the custody of family members who have citizenship or legal U.S. residence.
Consider: To protect the nation from a sick child, the U.S. government has paid for hours of agents’ labor and extensive travel around the state of Texas, and is now paying even more to detain her at a facility away from her family. The customs agency claims it had no choice but to act as it did, but in fact agents have far more discretion under Trump than they did under his predecessor.
The story of Rosa Maria, who should be released to her family immediately, is horrifying not only for its cruelty. It also offends the values of dignity and decency that are hallmarks of any civilized society, and to which the U.S. has always paid tribute.
Holding a sick child hostage to entice her undocumented parents to surrender is morally abhorrent and a stark departure from American ideals. "What have we become?" asked the New York Daily News in an editorial. It's a question that all Americans, on reading the story of Rosa Maria Hernandez, should be asking.
--Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman.
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