Immigrant Woman With Brain Tumor Released From Federal Detention

The woman's lawyers said customs officials "tied her hands and ankles" and refused to let her speak to family members.

Published Feb. 23, 2017

 (Wikipedia Commons)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

An undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who was in federal custody while being treated for a pituitary brain tumor was released on 2 March 2017.

Amnesty International said in a statement that the 26-year-old woman, identified as Sara, will be allowed to live with family in New York while her petition for asylum in the U.S. is evaluated. A spokesperson for the group, Eric Ferrero, said:

Sara never should have been held for so long in the first place, let alone with a medical issue. It is unconscionable to treat people fleeing violence and danger as if they are criminals. Applying for asylum should not mean giving up one’s human rights in the process.

Officials with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told us that Sara was discharged from a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas on 22 February 2017, and taken to a detention facility in Alvarado, about 17 miles away.

Sara had been in federal custody for more than a year before she was hospitalized and diagnosed with the tumor earlier in the month. Her attorneys have accused officials of mistreating her and refusing to allow her to communicate with both them and her family.

"She told us they tied her hands and ankles in her condition," one of her representatives, Melissa Zuniga, told The Hill.

An ICE spokesperson called that allegation "patently false." The agency said that Sara was placed back in detention after her physician deemed her condition stable. She was under medical supervision from the agency's staff prior to her release.

Amnesty International told Snopes via email on 3 March 2017 that at the time of her release, the tumor was small enough that it did not require an emergency surgical procedure.

Sara, who first crossed into the U.S. in November 2015, was first arrested after crossing into the U.S. on 4 November 2015. During a 26 January 2016 immigration hearing, she said she was seeking asylum in the country because she was afraid that her "gang-affiliated" aunt would kill her for dating a police officer in her native country. ICE confirmed to us that she has no criminal history.

On 10 February 2017, she collapsed inside the detention center. Nine days later, her attorneys said, she told her mother that she had suffered convulsions and memory loss and that she had been "bleeding profusely through her nose." They also said that both they and her family had been cut off from contacting her after she was hospitalized. An ICE spokesperson said that communication between hospitalized detainees and relatives "must be approved in advance with ICE and the appropriate consulate."

Texas A&M University professor Fatma Marouf, who leads the school's Immigrant Rights Clinic, said that she spoke to Sara in the hospital despite objections from two guards:

They couldn’t physically stop me from talking to her. I went over to her and I just said, ‘We want you to know that your family is working to get you out, and there are attorneys working on your case.’

Her current condition is unknown. According to ICE, Sara has met with her attorney, Marcia Kasdan. We contacted Kasdan's office seeking comment.


Bernal, Rafael. "Lawyers: ICE detainee with brain tumor removed from hospital." The Hill. 22 February 2017.

Woodruff, Betsy. "Undocumented Woman With a Brain Tumor Locked Up by ICE." The Daily Beast. 22 February 2017.

Amnesty International. "Young Mother with Brain Tumor Will Be Released from ICE Detention." 2 March 2017.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.