Family, attorney denied access to hospitalized asylum seeker

AP News
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Posted: Feb 21, 2017 8:57 PM

DALLAS (AP) — Attorneys for a Salvadoran woman who collapsed in a Texas detention center earlier this month as she seeks asylum said Tuesday that family and lawyers have been denied most contact with her as well as information about her medical condition.

Paralegal Melissa Zuniga, with the Law Office of Marcia Kasdan, has been working on the asylum case for Sara Beltran Hernandez, 26, for the last 13 months. Zuniga said another detained asylum seeker called Beltran Hernandez's family the day after she collapsed in an Arlington, Texas, detention facility and was taken to a nearby hospital.

"The family has been terrified ... the mother fainted upon hearing the news," Zuniga said. "Had the friend not called, I don't know how long it would have taken for them to realize something was wrong. Sara called almost nightly, but it still may have taken some time."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a statement late Tuesday saying Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had contacted the family's attorneys to explain the proper procedure to get in touch with the woman.

"Requests by family members to visit ICE detainees who have been hospitalized are permitted but must be approved in advance with ICE and the appropriate consulate," the agency wrote in the statement.

Local attorneys working with Kasdan's office said Tuesday that a representative with the Salvadoran consulate of Dallas had been in touch with the family and that ICE officials had said the woman will be moved to a Dallas hospital in the coming days to receive treatment.

Zuniga said she located Beltran Hernandez at Texas Health Huguley Hospital outside Fort Worth a few days after she was admitted. She said she had a brief conversation with the woman on Feb. 13, when Beltran Hernandez said she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was being lined up for surgery.

Five days later, she said the woman spoke briefly to her mother on the phone and had forgotten details, including the names of her lawyers she had worked with for 13 months on her asylum case.

"It was clear that she had deteriorated in that time. She sounded groggy and she wasn't remembering things. We became even more concerned," Zuniga said.

A family friend and a local attorney were both turned away quickly by ICE agents posted at Beltran Hernandez's room, Zuniga said. The local attorney called the hospital and Texas ICE officials to ask how to get access to the woman, but was given conflicting information.

Zuniga said the attention to Beltran Hernandez's case Tuesday had started to move things in a positive direction. She said the woman is seeking asylum for multiple reasons, including domestic violence allegations and other threats to her safety.