The arrest and possible deportation of undocumented woman Blanca Borrego from a Texas clinic where she was receiving gynecological treatment has sparked condemnation from her family, community, and observers nationwide—who say that such targeting deters people from accessing vital healthcare.
Borrego, who is originally from Mexico and has lived in the United States for 12 years, was attending an early September appointment at the Memorial Hermann's Northeast Women's Healthcare Clinic in Atascocita to receive care for a cyst that was causing her pain.
Accompanied by her 22- and 8-year-old daughters, the 44-year-old Borrego was told by clinic staff that her records were out-of-date, at which point she handed them a fake driver's license, according to a case report from the advocacy group Not One More Deportation.
In response to the "suspicious driver's license," clinic staff contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety, and then law enforcement, according to a statement from Memorial Hermann.
Meanwhile, the mother and her two children were told to remain in the waiting room, and following a delay, the Sheriff's department came in an arrested Borrego. According to Not One More Deportation, "As the Harris County Sheriffs walked her out of the clinic, handcuffed, they told her daughters, 'She’s going to get deported.'"
"I will never forget seeing my mother led out of the doctor’s office in handcuffs. My family is devastated," Borrego's older daughter, America Ruiz, wrote following the arrest. "This shouldn’t happen in America. People should have a basic human right to seek medical attention without fear of arrest and deportation."
Borrego has been charged with a felony related to an allegedly falsified document. While she was released from custody on Tuesday, her pending charges could lead to her deportation.
Meanwhile, her case has drawn attention—and outrage—across the country.
Supporters and family members are planning a memorial rally in Houston on Thursday. "We want a huge crowd out there to show Memorial Hermann and other healthcare providers that arresting people seeking medical care is NOT acceptable," reads the event announcement.
"Blanca Borrego’s arrest—which took place in the middle of a visit to her doctor—is a tragic reminder of the ways our flawed immigration laws make it difficult for immigrant women and families to live with dignity and health," said National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health executive director Jessica González-Rojas in a recent statement. "When local law enforcement officials take it upon themselves to act as immigration enforcers, especially to such an aggressive extent, it creates an environment of fear and mistrust that can cost lives."
In addition to the human rights breach, Borrego's attorney Clafissa Guajardo told the Guardian that the clinic's actions likely violated federal laws protecting healthcare privacy.
Rights campaigners expressed concerns that the clinic's actions point to a much larger problem.
"The sad fact is that many immigrant women in Texas, and across the country, already forgo needed healthcare, live with lumps in their breasts and daily pain, because clinics are inaccessible or put them at risk for deportation," said Ana Rodriguez DeFrates of the Texas Latina Advocacy Network declared in a recent statement.
"This is an ongoing human rights crisis," DeFrates continued, "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."