When Blanca Borrego went to the doctor, she could never have anticipated the potentially devastating outcome.
Borrego took her two daughters with her to the appointment, who waited with her for two hours in the waiting room before she was called back to an examination room. She had been to this doctor before – one year earlier, the physician had found a cyst that was causing abdominal pain, the Houston Press reports.
When she went to the doctor for a routine exam, she was asked to update her information and provide an ID. Borrego provided a fake driver’s license, and then waited with her daughters to be called in for her exam.
When she was finally taken back, under the guise of providing medical care, the staff of the Northeast Women’s Healthcare clinic in Atascocita handed her over to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, who arrested her and removed her from the clinic as her children watched in terror and confusion.
“We’re going to take her downtown,” the sheriff told her daughters as he hustled Borrego out of the clinic, “She’s going to get deported.”
Staff at this clinic, which is part of the Memorial Hermann Medical Group, called the sheriff’s department when they suspected her driver’s license was fake, Borrego’s lawyer, Clarissa Guajardo, told the Houston Press. Borrego was arrested for presenting a false form of identification.
Borrego and her husband moved to the United States in 2003 with two children. When their work visas expired, they became undocumented. Her youngest daughter was born in the United States. Eventually, her daughter could be able to petition for her parents’ citizenship – a lengthy process that cannot start until the eight year old is an adult – but criminal charges for presenting the false driver’s license or deportation could derail the family’s hopes.
Her husband has stopped going to work. He is afraid he will be arrested, too, the Houston Press reports. This puts the healthcare of the entire family at risk, as his job provides their health insurance.
Borrego’s unfolding case is a tragic, but accurate, example of the challenges undocumented people face in the United States. For these Texans, accessing basic preventative healthcare – even through private insurance – is a risk to themselves and their families.
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Executive Director Jessica González-Rojas said this case is a “…reminder of the ways our flawed immigration laws make it difficult for immigrant women and families to live with dignity and health. When local law enforcement officials take it upon themselves to act as immigration enforcers, especially to such an aggressive extent,” González-Rojas continued, “it creates an environment of fear and mistrust that can cost lives.”
Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, Texas Latina Advocacy Network (TX LAN) State Policy and Advocacy Director for NLIRH, added,
- “This arrest raises serious questions about patient privacy and human rights of immigrant women in Texas. The sad fact is that many immigrant women in Texas, and across the country, already forgo needed health care, live with lumps in their breasts and daily pain, because clinics are inaccessible or put them at risk for deportation. This is an ongoing human rights crisis, and Blanca Borrego’s arrest shines a light on the struggles of immigrant women, who are routinely denied driver’s licenses, affordable healthcare, and other basic human and civil rights…No one should be afraid to seek medical care for fear of deportation.”
Fear of deportation is a constant part of the lives of undocumented Texans like Borrego. Not only can this cause immigrants to avoid seeking medical care, it also decreases the likelihood that these Texans will seek out other services or approach law enforcement when they are in need of protection.
Until Texas starts treating undocumented Texans like people instead of criminals, we will be forcing some of the most vulnerable members of our communities to choose between health and safety. And that is unacceptable.