SAN DIEGO -- Two different facets of the immigration debate — birthright citizenship and the caravan of thousands of Central American refugees — have crossed.
And at the center of that intersection is Maryury Serrano Hernandez.
The 19-year-old woman left Honduras on Oct. 17 with her husband, Miguel, and their 3-year-old son. The couple now has another child. Their newborn boy came into the world on Nov. 27, one day after his mother was apprehended at the border.
According to media reports, Hernandez was nearly eight months pregnant when she and her family began the dangerous trek through Guatemala and Mexico by foot and then by bus until they reached Tijuana. Miguel told reporters that traveling with his pregnant wife was difficult, and that the family often fell behind the rest of the caravan.
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In Tijuana, the couple found refuge in a shelter but didn’t feel safe — in part because of Mexican nationals who harassed Central Americans. The family decided to cross into the United States and seek asylum. They were picked up by the Border Patrol and put in a detention facility. The next day, Hernandez went into labor and was transported to a hospital in San Diego where she gave birth.
“He was born here in San Diego,” she beamed to a Spanish-language television reporter as she held her baby. She said she considers the child a blessing from God and a “big reward” for her family having survived the harrowing journey.
Hernandez claims that she didn’t leave Honduras with the intent of giving birth on U.S. soil and that, when she crossed the border, she had no idea she would go into labor the very next day.
I recently talked about this story while hosting a show on a conservative radio station in San Diego, and my listeners were fuming. Callers were sure that Hernandez and her husband had meticulously planned every part of her delivery, including when the baby would be born — and where.
That’s quite a trick. My wife and I have been pregnant four times, and I don’t remember any part of those deliveries that went according to plan. Ever hear of false contractions?
The callers also insisted that the only reason the parents wanted their son to be born in the United States was so they could collect “freebies” like welfare and free medical benefits.
That confused me. For the most part, the native-born value their U.S. citizenship, right? Why else would they work so hard to deny it to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants?
But, as an American who is extremely grateful for his U.S. citizenship, I can say that it’s not because I have a shot to win prizes as if America were a game show. It’s because my citizenship makes me a member of a special club promising “liberty and justice for all.”
Shouldn’t we consider the possibility that migrants and refugees could be motivated by ideals that are just as high-minded? Does the fact we look down on these folks mean we always have to question their motives?
Lastly, several callers repeated the old trope advanced by cable-news hosts that babies born on U.S. soil somehow “anchor” their parents to the United States.
If so, that’s one flimsy anchor. The slightest tug by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and it breaks. The parents of U.S.-born children get deported all the time. Sometimes, the kids go with their parents. Other times, they go into foster care.
Hernandez and her infant son spent several days in the hospital in San Diego, while immigration agents stood sentry and checked all the food and clothes brought to them by hospital officials. You would have thought they were guarding Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
After leaving the hospital, Hernandez was returned to detention. After she and her husband filed their asylum claim, they were released into the United States in the care of an American woman who volunteers to house refugees while they make their way through the court system.
Hernandez came north because she wanted what every mother wants — better lives for her children and to keep them safe. For this, she was treated like Public Enemy No. 1.
“I felt like a criminal,” she said.
Most Americans still like to think of their country as a safe haven for the desperate and the downtrodden. They just don’t act in a way that lives up to the billing.
That’s the real crime.