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Border & Immigration

Federal Appeals Court Temporarily Blocks Deportation of Injured Child In Texas Detention Center

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File Photo| Norma Martinez | Texas Public Radio
An origami crane hangs on a fence outside the South Texas family detention center in Dilley, Texas.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay late Monday night, blocking the deportation of a 5-year-old Guatemalan boy until the court can hear his case.

The move puts a hold on an earlier ruling, which would have allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport the boy and his family.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled Monday that the child’s attorneys had failed to prove that he would “suffer irreparable harm” if he is deported without being examined by a medical specialist.

The 5-year-old fractured his skull in an accident before immigrational officials took him and his family into custody. The child’s mother said in written testimony that her son is experiencing chronic pain and complains of sensitivity to sound. She petitioned the judge to stay his deportation until after a pediatric neurologist and pediatric neurosurgeon examine him for a possible traumatic brain injury.

In his order dismissing her suit, Wilson said ICE is “only required to provide ‘appropriate routine and emergency medical services’ to children in immigration custody,” and that the child could be treated in Guatemala after he has been deported.

Dr. Amy Cohen, a child psychiatrist who has examined the 5-year-old’s medical records, said Monday that she was “shocked and devastated” by the original judge’s ruling.

“It's really difficult to understand how any judge or, for that matter, the government, could deny a child who's had a very, very serious head trauma the evaluation and care that he requires,” said Cohen, the executive director of the asylum advocacy organization Every Last One.

“If this was a parent who is doing to their child what the government is doing to this child, that parent could be accused of serious neglect,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately this represents a pattern of neglect of the medical care of children who are under government custody.”

Texas Public Radio is not naming the child or his mother because the family fears for their safety if they return to Guatemala. The family filed suit in California, where they were living before they were arrested by ICE and taken to the family detention center in Dilley, Texas.

Cohen and a specialist in traumatic brain injuries from the UCLA children’s hospital provided written testimony warning that the 5-year-old could face lasting consequences if left untreated.

However, the judge ruled that it wasn’t the responsibility of ICE to ensure the child received that treatment.

ICE has declined to comment on the ongoing case, but previously defended the child’s care while in custody.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.