A Honduran couple has said a Border Patrol agent forced their 3-year-old daughter with a heart condition to choose which one of her parents would be allowed to stay with her in the U.S. and then scolded her when she began to cry.
The child was at a migrant holding facility in El Paso, Texas, with her parents and two older siblings, ages 6 and 9, when she was presented with the heavy question last week, according to NPR.
“And the girl, because she is more attached to me, she said, mom,” her mother, Tania, told NPR through an interpreter. “But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, ‘You said [you want to go] with mom.’”
The girl’s father, Joseph, was separated from his family and told he’d have to go back to Juárez, Mexico, which borders El Paso, to await his immigration court hearing alone.
As NPR reported, the family of five had originally entered El Paso together in April but were then sent to Juárez to await their immigration proceedings. This procedure falls in line with the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.
With the help of the Catholic organization Hope Border Institute and the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, the family returned to El Paso in late June to make a claim for asylum.
El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, who has been an outspoken advocate of immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, accompanied the family to a port of entry and asked that they be allowed to stay in the U.S., opposed to Mexico, because of the child’s health condition, which had caused a heart attack and forced her to undergo open-heart surgery, NPR reported.
“We’re here at the mercy of the American people,” Joseph told the Dallas Morning News during his family’s travel across the border. “It’s an honor to be accompanied by the bishop. We come here carrying only the little hope we have.”
The family was again granted entry and by July 10 their case was brought before a judge, leading to an examination of Sofi by a doctor working for the Department of Homeland Security under contract who confirmed her condition.
That’s when the child was reportedly asked to choose which parent would stay with her and which would go back to Mexico.
“The doctor told me, don’t let them ask her because they don’t have the right to ask a minor,” Tania told NPR.
The Border Patrol agent was steadfast in his decision to separate the family but the following morning a different officer allowed Sofi’s father entrance with the rest of his family. The five of them soon after flew from El Paso to join relatives in the Midwest as they await their immigration proceedings.
Seitz celebrated the news on Twitter by sharing a photo of him with the family and describing the painstaking ordeals they had overcome, which he said included two kidnapping attempts after fleeing Honduras to escape gang violence.
“We Americans need our hearts checked,” Seitz said in a statement about the border situation late last month. “Why can’t we put ourselves in their shoes? Because we have decided they are not our neighbors, we have decided that they are aliens and illegals. We think these parents simply have no right to save their children from violence or malnutrition. They have no right to a job or to support their families. They have no right to reunite with family.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tx.), who NPR reported assisted the family in its efforts to be removed from the MPP program, confirmed to HuffPost that it is asking the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the child being asked to choose which parent to stay with. Her office declined to comment on her reported role in the family’s immigration efforts.
A spokesperson for CBP and Hope Border Institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment.