A group of activists and migrants in Arizona claim that U.S. Border Patrol agents stake out hospital emergency rooms and maternity wards in Tucson to look for undocumented immigrants.
The Arizona Human Rights Coalition said that migrants and some hospital employees have seen Border Patrol agents patrolling the hallways of area hospital, including the University of Arizona Medical Center (UMC).
"They’re constantly at the hospital and that deters undocumented immigrants from coming in," Kat Rodríguez, the program director for Arizona’s Coalición de Derechos Humanos, told Fox News Latino. "We’ve seen Border Patrol agents coming into the emergency rooms."
Rodríguez added that besides being inside the hospital, the agents also are in local hospital parking lots and on the streets outside. Some hospital employees will also alert Border Patrol agents on their breaks if an undocumented immigrant is in hospital care, she added.
"What right do Border patrol agents have to go into the hospital?" Rodríguez said. "What are the hospitals doing? It’s the doctors say who comes into the emergency rooms."
Both the Border Patrol and UMC officials denied that agents staked out the hospital, but added that agents do go into the hospital at certain times.
"Yes, they’re there but only when they have to bring in somebody who is in custody," said Kate Riley, of UMC’s public affairs office. "We have a policy to cooperate with Border Patrol and all other law enforcement agents."
Riley added that the hospital does not alert border agents if an undocumented immigrant is in the hospital, but in the past has notified the consulate of the person’s home country.
"We do not have agents at the hospitals but sometimes they’re there because somebody is in our custody," reaffirmed Steven Passement, a supervisor for the Border patrol’s Tucson sector. "They’re in our custody and it’s our duty to make sure they don’t escape."
Border Patrol agents are sometimes also in the hospital to visit an injured colleague or family member, Passement said.
But the immigration activists disagree. "That’s absolutely not true," Rodríguez said. "We’ve seen them when they have no one in custody."
Rodríguez said that she has seen agents inside the maternity wards of hospitals. "That’s a woman's space and to see a man who is armed there is very disturbing to me," she added.
Five years ago, Miriam Aviles-Reyes, a mother of four, went into labor after she was detained by Tucson police along with her husband and three children following an alleged traffic violation. After finding that she didn’t have the proper papers, police called the Border Patrol before transporting her to a local Tucson hospital.
As her husband and children were taken to a detention center, Aviles-Reyes went through what she called the "worst experience" of her life, according to EFE. As she went into labor, a Border Patrol agent stood by her side in the maternity ward "as if he was her husband."
"The only thing I remember is that every little while the agent told me 'Go for it, once you have your baby, he and you are going to go to Mexico,'" she told EFE. "It was a traumatic experience. My kids still can't forget that they took them to 'jail' along with their dad."
Rodríguez, who along with her group has brought in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that along with stories like Aviles-Reyes’, she has heard of Border patrol agents handcuffing patients to beds to prevent them from leaving.
"This absolutely crosses the line," she said. "They don’t do this in El Paso, which is right across the river from Mexico, why would they do it in Tucson which is 80 miles north of the border?"
She also says that beyond being an immigration issue, Border Patrol agents pose a threat to the general well-being of hospital’s patients.
"It’s not so much an immigration issue as it is about health because you’re putting people’s lives at risk by shackling them to the bed," Rodríguez said.
Passement said that any undocumented immigrant brought to the hospital by Border Patrol agents could be handcuffed because they have not been fully processed by authorities and could be a risk to others or of fleeing.
"That may be an option that an agent may deem necessary," he said "if they pose a threat or give an agent a reason, then that is an option."