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Complaint Disputes Border Patrol’s Version Of In-Custody Birth

Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U....

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facility near the Donna International Bridge, Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Donna, Texas.

In February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that it had safely helped an asylum-seeker give birth while in custody. But a new complaint says the woman instead gave birth holding on to the side of a garbage can and still wearing pants.

The February news release said the 27-year-old Guatemalan mother who gave birth at the Chula Vista Border Patrol station was well-cared for and received immediate medical attention. But a complaint filed Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general paints a very different picture.

According to the complaint, which was filed by the ACLU and Jewish Family Service of San Diego, the woman, whom lawyers call Anna, gave birth while wearing her pants, and holding onto a garbage can, even after she complained of womb pain on the trip to the Border Patrol station.

The complaint states that her husband, who was arrested along with their two other children while crossing the border, helped pull down her pants to reveal his partially-born daughter. The baby was then birthed in the cell, in full sight of other detainees and Border Patrol employees.

RELATED: Asylum-Seeker Won’t Be Separated From Newborn

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler

“Every mother and newborn deserves to be in a hospital, where doctors can provide life-saving medical interventions,” said Kate Clark, the senior director of immigration services for Jewish Family Service of San Diego, during a virtual press conference Wednesday morning. “Anna gave birth in her pants, in a detention facility holding on to a trash can with un-gloved staff reaching out to her baby. This is not okay, in any circumstance.”

The complaint calls on the Border Patrol to stop detaining pregnant women or to minimize as much as possible the amount of time they’re in custody. It also calls for keeping them out of the “Remain-in-Mexico” program, which sends people back to Mexico as their asylum claims winds through the courts.

Anna, the pregnant woman in the complaint, had been sent back to Mexico as part of the program, but government agents had refused to allow her to enter the United States to attend her court hearings. She has since been allowed back in the U.S. as her asylum claim is processed, and she is in an undisclosed location with family.

KPBS first reported on CBP’s unwritten policy of blocking pregnant asylum-seekers in the program from entering the U.S. in February.

The complaint was accompanied by a letter sent to the DHS inspector general signed by 12 senators, including California’s Kamala Harris, calling for an investigation into Border Patrol’s treatment of pregnant women.

CBP has yet to respond to a request for comment on the complaint.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.


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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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