Dear Director Homan, Acting Secretary Hargan, Director Lloyd, & Acting Assistant Secretary Wagner:
We, the undersigned, write to urge Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to not pursue removal proceedings against Rosa Maria and for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to immediately release her to her family. Rosa Maria Hernandez is a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was recently detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) after they stopped the ambulance that was transporting her to the hospital for an emergency operation. She was later transferred into ORR custody. Instead of releasing her to her family, DHS has labeled her as a danger and a priority for deportation. We are aware that Rosa Maria has lived in the United States with her parents since she was three months old, and that her family here in the United States has been and remains the caretakers who serve the best interests of this child.
We demand that you take action and immediately close this child’s immigration case. This family, who still lives in Laredo, Texas, will be detained if they try to cross the immigration check-point to take their child to immigration court. Rosa Maria should never have been placed into removal proceedings. We now ask that you administratively close her proceedings, and return her to her family.
As you are aware, ORR has a responsibility to promote expeditious family reunification for children who come into its custody. Children in ORR custody are protected by the U.S. Constitution, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), and the Flores Settlement Agreement. The government should only detain children as a measure of last resort. Both the TVPRA and the Flores Settlement embody a strong policy in favor of releasing children from custodial settings into placements with family members or in the community. The TVPRA requires that unaccompanied children be “promptly” placed “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
Similarly, the Flores Settlement mandates that the government “release a minor from its custody without unnecessary delay,” as long as detention is not required to ensure a child’s appearance at immigration court, or for safety reasons. Taken together, these provisions demand that the government actively and continuously seek release of each child in custody, unless the child’s detention is necessary to secure her appearance in court or her safety. There is no basis to hold a child who has been living in the United States with her parents for a decade in ORR custody when her family were and remain appropriate guardians, and is certainly against the best interests of the child in this case.
Particularly in light of Rosa Maria’s medical condition—a child with cerebral palsy who recently underwent a surgical operation—family reunification is critical to this child’s wellbeing. Children with cerebral palsy require intensive therapy and medical care, which Rosa Maria was receiving under the care of her parents and family members here in the United States. As investigations mount into the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s decision to target and detain Rosa Maria, we ask that ICE close her immigration case and ORR immediately facilitate the reunification of Rosa Maria with her family in the United States before further harm is done.