Border Patrol Sparks Outrage After Agents Spotted Waiting In Emergency Room To Take Patient Back Into Custody

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has sparked outrage after Border Patrol agents were spotted waiting outside a patient's room in the emergency unit of a Florida hospital before taking the patient into custody.

Video and images posted to social media on Sunday appeared to show at least one Border Patrol agent waiting outside a room at the Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Aventura, Florida, with later footage appearing to show officers escorting the patient, a woman, into the back of a Border Patrol vehicle.

Sharing video of the incident on Twitter, Thomas Kennedy, the political director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said: "Immigration enforcement just took the woman under custody after grossly violating her privacy while in emergency treatment."

Speaking to Newsweek, Kennedy said the woman ended up in hospital after appearing to suffer a panic attack when Border Patrol agents pulled over a vehicle she was in. Her ex-husband and teenage children were also inside the car.

According to Kennedy, the parents were on their way to a beach day with their children when they were pulled over.

"The kids started freaking out and she had a panic attack," Kennedy said.

The Border Patrol agents called an ambulance and followed the vehicle to the hospital, but reportedly remained inside the emergency unit for nearly five hours, refusing to leave even as doctors and nurses filtered in and out of the room to ask her questions and give her treatment.

Kennedy said he was disturbed to see Border Patrol agents refusing to leave a medical patient alone, in addition to refusing to provide a warrant or a reason for the rest.

However, his outrage over the incident was not only aimed at CBP officials, but also at the hospital itself for its "disgusting complicity" in granting immigration enforcement officials access to its emergency ward and allowing them to take a patient into custody.

Immigration enforcement just took the woman under custody after grossly violating her privacy while in emergency treatment. Disgusting complicity by @AHMCAventura hospital.

— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) October 13, 2019

"I feel like the hospital should have taken strong action to protect the woman," he said.

Border Patrol agents, he said, "never produced a warrant and never produced any sort of reason as to why this woman was being detained. This is the kind of stuff that deters undocumented immigrants from seeking medical attention."

The circumstances surrounding the arrest are still unclear. CBP has told Newsweek it is still looking into the details of the incident before it can comment, while the Aventura Hospital and Medical Center has not immediately responded to a request for comment.

The incident has outraged immigration advocates and reignited debate around whether immigration officials should be allowed into U.S. hospitals for enforcement purposes, regardless of whether a patient is being held under federal custody.

In a statement on Twitter, United We Dream shared video of the incident, calling on followers to "call Aventura Hospital and DEMAND they tell CBP to leave the building and stop terrorizing the patients seeking care."

Meanwhile, Brooke Binkowski, the former managing editor of Snopes, joined calls, asking why workers at the hospital were "abandoning the Hippocratic Oath?" the oath of ethics taken by physicians.

"How can any patient ever trust you to give them fair treatment after this disgusting violation?" Binkowski asked.

Many advocates also pointed to the fact that both CBP and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies are largely expected to avoid enforcement in "sensitive locations," such as schools and hospitals, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The Department of Homeland Security's "sensitive locations" policy does not appear to apply, however, when a patient is already under federal custody.

Under CBP's own written policies, officers, including Border Patrol agents, are expected to call an ambulance if a detainee experiences a medical emergency. At least one agent is expected to follow the ambulance, however, until medical officials make a decision on whether a patient requires more care.

Just months ago, CBP faced scrutiny over its policies on accompanying detainees requiring medical treatment, with nonprofit advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights warning that immigration officials were "obstructing medical care" at U.S. hospitals, clinics and other facilities.

"U.S. and international laws protect the right to nondiscriminatory access to health care for all individuals," the organization said. "But, in certain instances, loopholes permit enforcement actions in medical facilities which interfere with this right and with the ethical obligation of medical professionals to provide care."

Even when immigration officials "seek medical attention for people in custody, the agency maintains that the person is still 'detained,' which can interfere with the ability of medical providers to help the patient," the report said.

In one instance, it describes how a patient was transported a Houston hospital from a detention center for treatment for metastatic cancer and had only been given a "few more weeks" to live.

"The patient's doctor was unable to adequately examine him due to the fact that the patient had restraints running across his body, despite not posing a danger to anyone due to his weakened state," the report said. "The doctor requested that detention officers remove the restraints, to no avail,"

In another case, the report said, "a patient in immigration custody receiving medical attention was shackled; agents gave no response as to why the restraints were necessary for this critically ill patient when repeatedly asked by the patient's doctor."

"Determining the prevalence of situations like these will require further research," the report said.

It did note, however, that between 1995 and 2017, as many as 80 different hospitals across 18 states were used by ICE, "which indicates that enforcement actions may affect a significant number of patients and providers."

"Considering that this data does not include CBP detainees, the numbers of people detained and hospitals used by immigration officials are likely much greater," it said.

This article has been updated with statements from Thomas Kennedy.

A sign giving direction to The University of Miami Hospital's Emergency Department hangs on a wall on April 30, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is facing scrutiny after officers were seen waiting outside a hospital patient's room in Aventura, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty