Federal agents in Texas move hospitalized Salvadoran woman awaiting emergency surgery to a detention facility

The Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas.
The Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas.
(Louis DeLuca / Associated Press)
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A critically ill woman from El Salvador who was awaiting emergency surgery for a brain tumor was forcibly moved from a Texas hospital to a detention center by federal agents, raising concerns about President Trump’s directive to more aggressively pursue people living in the country illegally.

Sara Beltran-Hernandez, 26, a mother of two young children, was bound by her hands and feet and removed by wheelchair from Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth late Wednesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who brought her to a detention facility in Alvarado, Texas.

“It is heartbreaking and inhumane,’’ said Chris Hamilton, a Texas lawyer who tried to visit the woman Wednesday night at the detention center, where he was threatened with arrest for trespassing.


“This is unacceptable under our Constitution, and unacceptable from a standpoint of basic human rights,” Hamilton said. “This woman is critically ill and in severe pain.”

Lawyers who have been representing Beltran-Hernandez in an asylum petition said they plan to file an emergency appeal in Texas to get their client returned to the hospital.

“The medical team and legal team are focused on getting Sara the medical treatment she desperately needs,” said Lorena Massoni, a paralegal working on Beltran-Hernandez’s case.

Beltran-Hernandez was picked up by immigration agents in November 2015 while trying to get from El Salvador to New York to visit her mother and other relatives who live in Queens. She has been detained ever since at the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, while her family petitioned for asylum, citing threats of violence against her, from a domestic partner, among others.

Beltran-Hernandez was transferred from the detention center to the hospital in Fort Worth this month after complaining of headaches, nosebleeds and memory loss. Doctors diagnosed a brain tumor and put her on a waiting list for emergency surgery, which was supposed to take place this weekend, according to her legal team. They were stunned when the agents removed her from the hospital Wednesday.

“They had tied up her hands and ankles,” Melissa Zuniga, another paralegal on the case, said in a text message. “I don’t understand why at all when she’s extremely sick and being moved in a wheelchair.”


Beltran-Hernandez’s relatives have not been allowed to visit her, although they have spoken to her on the telephone.

Beltran-Hernandez is back at the Prairieland Detention Center, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The agency said in a statement Thursday, “During her stay at the hospital, ICE ensured that she was able to speak to her family and to her attorney by phone. Like all detainees in our care, Ms. Beltran will continue to have access to 24 hour emergency medical care and to any required specialized treatment at an outside facility.’’ The statement also said that a doctor had determined she was stable enough to be discharged and that she will be seen again by a medical specialist next week.

The abrupt removal of the critically ill woman is a dramatic example of what many observers believe might become the new normal: immigration agents implementing the Trump administration’s call to aggressively deport people in the country illegally regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.

“The most pernicious thing is that immigration enforcement authorities are filtering through government at every level seeing who they can scoop up,’’ said Rory Lancman, a councilman from Queens. Lancman is not involved with the Beltran-Hernandez case but is active on behalf of other immigrants in his district.

“If immigration agents are in our schools, our healthcare system, our courts, lives will be lost,” he said.


Twitter: @BarbaraDemick


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