SAN DIEGO – On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued its review of a Feb. 16, 2020 incident in which a 27-year-old Guatemalan woman seeking asylum gave birth at a U.S. Border Patrol station in Chula Vista.
On April 8, 2020, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLU) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) filed an administrative complaint regarding the incident in which the asylum-seeking woman – who was experiencing pain in her womb – was arrested and taken to the Border Patrol station rather than a hospital. This resulted in her partially delivering her baby while standing and holding onto a garbage can. The complaint called for an immediate investigation of the U.S. Border Patrol’s mistreatment of the woman and demanded that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stop detaining pregnant people and instead prioritize their prompt release.
Following the complaint, members of Congress, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, formally requested an OIG investigation.
ACLU and JFS welcome OIG’s investigation into the incident and the steps it takes towards demanding greater accountability from the U.S. Border Patrol on its patterns and practices of abusing people it detains. The OIG review also substantiates some of U.S. Border Patrol’s abuses highlighted in the complaint, including that, following her traumatic childbirth and postpartum hospital stay, the woman was booked back into custody together with her baby and forced to sleep on a concrete bench with the days-old infant.
The review also includes recommendations to CBP calling for greater documentation of childbirths that occur while the mother is in the agency’s custody as well as practices to streamline the release of U.S. citizen newborns from custody.
However, the OIG review fails to account for several other significant facts contained in the complaint. It claims that U.S. Border Patrol provided “adequate medical assistance” to the woman and her newborn. The OIG offers no basis for this conclusion beyond noting that it reviewed records and interviewed individuals regarding the incident. The review also does not acknowledge the woman’s pleas for medical attention upon apprehension and the verbal mistreatment she endured prior to, during and after giving birth.
“The OIG review’s recommendations only scratch the surface of the changes needed to compel U.S. Border Patrol to respect the rights and dignity of pregnant people in its custody. OIG’s fixation on the rights of U.S. citizen newborns misses the point of the demands included in our complaint, which calls on CBP to stop detaining pregnant people altogether,” said Monika Y. Langarica, immigrant rights’ staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “CBP must respect the rights of pregnant people and their newborn babies, and the sanctity of family unity, by prioritizing the prompt release of pregnant people into their networks of care in the U.S.”
Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services for Jewish Family Service of San Diego, said about the OIG review: “While we commend the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General for its investigation, there is more work to be done to ensure pregnant people and their families are treated with dignity and compassion as they seek their legal right to asylum in the U.S. No one should be forced to give birth in custody or immediately returned to a carceral setting with a newborn baby. We urge the federal government to continue investing in infrastructure and in processes that provide humanitarian reception along the border region.”
ACLU and JFS reiterate their demand that CBP stop detaining people known to be pregnant. This change would resolve the now-documented deficiencies in the agency’s tracking of childbirths and detention of U.S. citizen newborns, as well as other longstanding abuses and mistreatment suffered by pregnant people in their custody.
Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued such a policy directive saying “[g]enerally, ICE should not detain, arrest, or take into custody” people who are “known to be pregnant, postpartum, or nursing.”
A copy of this press release and the ACLU and JFS complaint can be viewed by clicking here.