ACLU and Jewish Family Service File Administrative Complaint on Behalf of Migrant Woman Who Gave Birth at Border Patrol Station

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2020

CONTACT:
Edward Sifuentes, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, 619-501-3408, esifuentes@aclusandiego.org
Ashley Bendas, Jewish Family Service of San Diego, 619-987-6676, ashley@jwalcher.com

SAN DIEGO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) calling for an immediate investigation of the U.S. Border Patrol’s mistreatment of a 27-year-old Guatemalan woman who gave birth at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station earlier this year.

“We are filing this complaint because CBP facilities, including U.S. Border Patrol stations, are categorically unsuitable for pregnant people and newborn babies. But the agency routinely and irresponsibly detains pregnant people, putting their health in grave danger by denying them access to proper medical care,” said Monika Y. Langarica, an immigrant rights’ attorney with ACLUF-SDIC. “This horrific case is just the most recent and one of the most egregious examples of this agency’s abuse.”

A group of U.S. Senators, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, also issued a letter today calling for an investigation of the mistreatment of pregnant detainees in CBP custody.

The ACLU’s client, whom we are calling “Ana” to protect her privacy, arrived in the United States with her husband and two young daughters in early 2019 in hopes of receiving asylum protection. Federal immigration authorities placed the woman’s family into the Trump administration’s controversial “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) program, forcing them to remain in Mexico while their asylum case was processed. Fearing for their safety in Mexico, the family traveled to the United States on Feb. 16, 2020. Eight months pregnant, the woman experienced severe pain in her womb during the journey.

The woman and her husband were arrested by the Border Patrol, but instead of transporting her to a hospital, the agents took the family to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station for processing. There, agents ignored her obvious distress, commanding her to remain seated even as she went into labor. Soon after arriving at the station, the woman partially delivered her baby into her pants while holding onto a garbage can. It was then that Ana was finally transported to a hospital.

For several days after the birth, Border Patrol agents and hospital staff denied Ana a shower even after she asked for one. When the hospital discharged her, instead of allowing her to reunite with her family in the United States, Border Patrol forced her to spend yet another night at the station in a cold cell with her newborn baby. There, they denied her a clean blanket for her baby.

Ana was later taken to the JFS Migrant Family Shelter, where she and her child received critical care, including medical treatment, a hot shower, new clothing, warm meals and legal consultations.

“JFS officially joins ACLU in calling for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General to investigate this incident and adopt the vital recommendations outlined in our complaint, so that no pregnant person has to endure the heinous conditions Ana experienced,” said Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services for Jewish Family Service of San Diego.

On Jan. 22, 2020, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties submitted the first in a four-part series of complaints to DHS OIG. The series requests an immediate review of CBP’s treatment of people the agency detains. The first complaint, which addressed CBP’s mistreatment of pregnant people, included a series of recommendations calling on DHS OIG to demand that CBP:

  • stop detaining pregnant people and instead release them promptly to their families or sponsors in the United States;
  • formally exempt all pregnant people from MPP and other abusive border policies;
  • ensure that pregnant people taken into custody have access to proper medical care; and
  • assess whether CBP disciplinary procedures are adequate accountability mechanisms.

Today’s complaint reiterates the earlier recommendations and additionally calls on DHS OIG to urge CBP to:

  • immediately transport all pregnant people it detains to a local hospital for evaluation;
  • respect the privacy of people in labor or receiving post-partum care;
  • release people who are forced to give birth in custody as soon as possible; and
  • ensure access to basic necessities for all people who are forced into such circumstances, including pregnant people and newborn babies.

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