Trump Administration Targets and Then Mocks Immigrant With Prosthetic Leg

A 20-year-old undocumented immigrant with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status and only one leg has been detained by federal immigration agents and held without charges for over a month, treated inhumanely and mocked for his prosthetic leg, an immigrant advocacy group says.

Felipe Abonza-Lopez of San Marcos, Texas–detained by Customs and Border Protection agents on October 11 as part of a human smuggling investigation–would be the second disabled undocumented immigrant in less than a month to be detained by federal immigration agents.

The first internationally-publicized case involved 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, who was detained on October 24 en route to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi from her home in Laredo, Texas, for emergency gallbladder surgery. Rosa Maria, who suffers from cerebral palsy was brought illegally into the United States at three months of age by her mother. She was held for over a week in a San Antonio detention center, sparking international outrage and a social media campaign demanding her release.

daca-pearsall-letter-v2 (1) Letter written From Felipe Abonz-Lopez courtesy of RAICES COURTESY OF RAICES

Abonza-Lopez, a DACA recipient whose status expires in 2019, was detained near Uvalde, Texas on October 11 when the car he and three of his undocumented relatives were in was pulled over by local police and handed over to Border Patrol, said Amy Fischer, policy director of Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). Fischer is working with Abonza-Lopez’s lawyers to get him released, she said. 

“What we learned from Rosa Maria’s case and what we’ll hopefully learn from Felipe’s case is that the community has significant power over ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” Fischer told Newsweek. “ICE is going to try to terrorize communities and they’re going to try to terrorize the lives of anybody, even those who we have deemed to be the most vulnerable.”

Abonza-Lopez in a letter sent to his attorney said his leg, which he lost as a child, has been in pain and Immigration and Customs Enforcement guards and medical workers at South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas have taunted him, not aware he speaks English. 

“You can put a broomstick in his leg and he can sweep,” a guard said in his presence, Abonza-Lopez wrote.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson declined to comment on Abonza-Lopez's medical care, citing patient privacy. 

Abonza-Lopez, who came to the U.S. when he was five years old, was also put in a cold room, called “hielera” or “the ice box,” Fischer said. His metal prosthetic leg became cold and painful, she said. Newsweek could not confirm that Abonza-Lopez was a DACA recipient or the circumstances of his detainment.

RTXZNHU People are taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol near Falfurrias, Texas March 29, 2013. ERIC THAYER/REUTERS

Customs and Border Protection officials maintain Abonza-Lopez was involved in human smuggling and stands by the decision to process him for deportation. He has a bond hearing next week.

“Border Patrol agents determined the situation was consistent with a human smuggling attempt: three passengers in the rear seat were extremely dirty, common characteristics for subjects walking through the brush for several days,” a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told Newsweek in an email.

Two of the three backseat passengers were from Honduras and one was from Mexico.

Abonza-Lopez’s detention is also the latest in a string of arrests of DACA recipients – an alarming trend, Fischer said.

DACA has enabled almost 800,000 eligible young undocumented adults to work lawfully and attend school without the threat of deportation. DACA, however, does not provide permanent legal status to its holders. President Donald Trump earlier this year effectively ended the program, directing the Department of Homeland Security to stop processing new applications. Trump, at the time, tweeted DACA recipients “have nothing to worry about.”

“ICE and Border Patrol are both doing everything they can to try and detain DACA recipients, so long as nobody is looking,” Fischer said.

There’s been at least six cases Fischer said she’s aware of.

Earlier this year, DACA recipients at the Falfurrias immigration checkpoint in Texas were held for several hours.

“This incident signals a troubling shift in policing of these young people,” U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) wrote in a letter to Trump following the incident. “This begs the question, what checks are being performed? How far are we from rounding up these young people for deportation? I urge all DACA recipients to stay alert.”

Gonzalez also wrote: “There is a departmental policy now in effect that (Customs and Border Protection) personnel will now temporarily detain DACA recipients at checkpoints while they conduct checks, a policy that signals a shift in the policing of these young immigrants.”

Still, Customs and Border Protection remains firm on its position in Abonza-Lopez’s case.

“The circumstances of the encounter make it clear that there was a smuggling attempt in process,” Chief Patrol Agent Felix Chavez, of the Del Rio Sector Border Patrol, said in a statement. “Deferred Action is not a free pass to engage in unlawful activity.”

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