At 17, Lucia Ramos feared she would be killed or kidnapped at her home in the Mexican state of San Luis de Potosi. Terrified and poor, she crossed the Texas-Mexico border illegally in 1999. Years later, her fears came true as her brothers, who were involved in organized crime, were kidnapped from their home.
Lucia (not her real name) moved to Laredo, married and had a daughter three years later. Diana was born with scoliosis and no arms, possibly due to an undiagnosed genetic disorder. Without specialized care and surgery, doctors said, Diana’s backbone could eventually bend so much that it could cause her lungs, stomach and heart to shut down.
But Lucia found no doctors in Laredo who could give Diana the medical treatment she desperately needed. From 2002 to 2005, Lucia twice traveled with her daughter, a U.S. citizen, through an internal Border Patrol checkpoint for doctor’s appointments at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi. Lucia feared deportation, but agents let her pass freely when she presented them with a binder of Diana’s medical records.
On their third trip to the hospital in 2006, Border Patrol agents at the same checkpoint detained Lucia for about six hours of questioning and deported her to Mexico. Fearing for Diana’s life instead of her own this time, she crossed the border illegally again in 2006 to care for her daughter. But with the threat of deportation looming between their home and the hospital, Diana’s condition went untreated for 11 years.
In July 2017, after hearing rumors that agents were letting undocumented parents travel with sick children, Lucia and her husband, who had a work permit, tried crossing the checkpoint again to take their daughter, now 15, to Corpus Christi doctors. But just as in 2006, Lucia was detained by Border Patrol agents and deported. Diana couldn’t travel without her mother, who she needed every step of the way, including for help going to the restroom. She returned to Laredo with her father, who also cared for Diana’s three brothers, Lucia said.