Daughter: Mom, Arrested at Gynecology Office, ‘Doesn’t Deserve What’s Going On’ (UPDATED)

undocumented immigrant
Courtesy America Ruiz
Blanca Borrego, left, and her daughter America Ruiz, right, pose at Ruiz’s college graduation in May.

Update: September 16, 2015, 5:30 p.m.

At around 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Blanca Borrego was released from Harris County jail after her family posted her $35,000 bond.

Though an immigration detainer was not placed on Borrego upon her release, the Houston mother of three still faces deportation, said Mary Moreno, communications director at the Texas Organizing Project. The organization helped Borrego’s family raise money for her bail and still plans to host a rally at Memorial Hermann headquarters in Houston on Thursday.

The first hearing for Borrego’s case is scheduled for September 29, Moreno said.

Original story:

For the last two weeks, America Ruiz has had to play “Mom” to her youngest sibling after their mother was arrested in an exam room at her Houston gynecologist’s office.

Ruiz has been devoting her attention to getting the 8-year-old up and dressed in the mornings, driving her to and from school and keeping her focused on anything other than their mother’s absence.

“She and my mom were best friends, they are always together,” 22-year-old Ruiz told the Observer. “I know that if she thinks about her, she’ll cry.”

On September 3, Ruiz and her sister watched as Harris County Sheriff’s deputies arrested their mother, Blanca Borrego, at the Memorial Hermann Northeast Women’s Healthcare clinic in Kingwood. Borrego, who is undocumented, had come to the clinic for an annual well-woman exam. When she and her daughters arrived, Borrego was asked to fill out paperwork and present an ID. After Borrego gave the receptionist a Texas driver’s license, the trio sat for two-and-a-half hours waiting for Borrego to be called back to an exam room.

“I had a feeling something was wrong, because they took so long,” Ruiz said. She remembers staff peeking through the receptionist’s window several times to see if the family was still in the waiting room. “I went to ask how long they were going to take, because we were getting ready to leave. They were like, ‘No, just hold on, somebody’s going to come around the corner and get you.’”

When Borrego was finally called back, deputies were waiting in the exam room to arrest her. Catching a glimpse back through the window, Ruiz watched in shock as law enforcement officers escorted her mother out a back exit in handcuffs. She grabbed her sister and rushed outside to confront them.

“The officer said that my mom was going to be taken downtown, that they found the fake documents on her, that her bond was going to be around $10,000 to $20,000, and that she was going to get deported,” Ruiz said.

The driver’s license that Borrego had given clinic staff was fake, but it was a fake Social Security card that deputies found in Borrego’s purse after her arrest that prompted a felony charge for tampering with a government document.

Borrego remains in jail, and her bond has been set at $35,000.

Clarissa Guajardo, a Houston immigration attorney who represents Borrego, is working on getting her client released back to her family. But she wants a commitment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the agency will not place an immigration detainer on Borrego, which would require the Harris County authorities to alert ICE upon releasing her.

“I understand that it was a fake document, but she wasn’t hurting anybody,” Ruiz said. “My mom is a good person. … We all make mistakes. She doesn’t deserve what’s going on.”

Borrego’s family, who moved to Houston from Mexico in 2003, is also struggling to afford her bail. Ruiz’s father is not working for fear of being deported. Ruiz, a recent graduate of Sam Houston University in Huntsville, can’t work until her temporary legal status under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is renewed. Ruiz’s 19-year-old brother, a server at a popular Houston wedding venue, is the family’s sole earner at the moment.

Guajardo said the clinic’s phone call to law enforcement and Borrego’s subsequent arrest violates the federal HIPAA law that protects patient privacy.

A spokesperson for Memorial Hermann, Houston’s largest nonprofit hospital system with clinics spanning the city, has told the Observer that Borrego’s “resident status” had nothing to do with why staff called law enforcement authorities to arrest her in the exam room.

In an email statement to the Observer, the corporate communications spokesperson for Memorial Hermann said that Borrego was reported instead “because of a potentially false identification presented at the clinic.” It’s unclear how the clinic staff determined the driver’s license could have been fake.

Human rights and immigration advocacy organizations such as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) have spoken out against Borrego’s arrest. TOP is planning a rally at the Memorial Hermann headquarters in Houston this Thursday.

Ruiz says she feels supported by friends and the community, and hopes that other families never have to face a similar situation. After speaking with her mom several times from jail, Ruiz says Borrego is staying calm in the face of a tough situation. She’s encouraging her children to stay strong as well.

“She has a lot of faith,” Ruiz said. “Even now, as this is going on, she says ‘I don’t want this to bring you down.’”

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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Published at 3:37 pm CST