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Border Patrol Makes New Mother Choose Between Family Separation Or Return To Mexico

A Border Patrol agent uses a computer in San Diego, Calif., June 5, 2014

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A Border Patrol agent uses a computer in San Diego, Calif., June 5, 2014

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The new mother was given a choice by Border Patrol Agents — either hand over her U.S. citizen child to social services, or return together to Mexico.

Aired: July 13, 2020 | Transcript

Late last month, an asylum-seeking mother who gave birth in Chula Vista was given the choice of leaving her newborn child alone in the U.S. or both of them being returned to Mexico.

On June 27, a pregnant Honduran asylum-seeker, her partner and their 9-year-old son were arrested by Border Patrol agents shortly after crossing the border through the desert. The father and son were almost immediately separated from them, driven to the border, and told to walk back to Mexico.

The woman was taken to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, where she gave birth while in Border Patrol custody. Two days after that, she was given a choice by Border Patrol Agents — either hand over her U.S. citizen child to social services, or return together to Mexico.

“That’s not a choice. That’s not a legitimate choice,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, a lawyer with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “These people both, both the mother and the father, were literally driven in a patrol vehicle to the border and forced to walk across into Mexico by armed agents. I don’t see choices there.”

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

A Border Patrol spokesperson told KPBS that because the mother has no right to be in the U.S., she simply can’t choose to stay there. They added that she could simply choose to leave the child in Border Patrol custody to be handed over to social services.

Border Patrol says it doesn’t “remove” U.S. citizens.

The Trump administration has effectively ended the asylum system along the southern border during the coronavirus pandemic, turning back thousands of asylum-seekers to Mexico since March.

The asylum-seeking family has since reunited in Tijuana, where they remain in a rented apartment. The mother hasn’t been able to access medical care in Mexico because of the risks of the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Jewish Family Service of San Diego

The asylum-seeking family, reunited in Tijuana in an undated photograph.

On Friday, the ACLU and Jewish Family Service of San Diego filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, and a request to simply allow the family to enter the U.S. to continue their asylum process.

“The fact that there isn’t something clear in the law stating you can’t send a U.S. citizen child back with parents that don’t have legal status yet, just the fact that that’s not in there, it’s very unclear, it leads to really difficult situations like the one we are witnessing right now,” said Luis M. Gonzalez, a supervising immigration attorney with Jewish Family Service. “This could have been resolved by DHS exercising their discretion to parole the entire family together into the United States.”

Advocates say the experience of the family, which was fleeing gang violence in Honduras, and were the victims of crime in Mexico after being sent back there through the “Remain-in-Mexico” program, is all too typical of an asylum system that has closed off every avenue.

“This doesn’t have to happen,” Ebadolahi told KPBS. “There are mechanisms in place, there’s authority for the agency to parole family units into the United States, where they can pursue their asylum claims safely and in a humane way, without separation, and without additional trauma.”

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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