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

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The Trump administration's cracked down on asylum seekers resulted in a harsh choice for one new mother late last month, after giving birth in a Chula Vista hospital, the mother was told that her us citizen infant could remain in the country, but she could not that choice between putting the child in social service care or returning to an uncertain future in Mexico has provoked widespread criticism and a formal request to the department of Homeland security, to exercise discretion in the case, joining me as KPBS reporter max reveling, Nadler, and max, welcome to the program. And to be here, you're not identifying this new mother or her family by name, but what can you tell us about them?

Speaker 2: 00:47 So the mother and father had left Honduras, uh, along with their nine year old son. Uh, earlier this year, they were fleeing gangs. Uh, they'd come to Mexico through its Southern border. Like a lot of other asylum seekers have done. They made it to the Rio Grande where they crossed, uh, in Texas. And they were apprehended originally by border patrol and sent back to Mexico under the remain in Mexico program. So they waited for their court date, but of course the pandemic, uh, intervened when they were in Monterey, they were also, um, robbed, they say. And so that, that created an unsafe environment for them. They eventually went to Tijuana where they, um, also try to enter the U S and that's how they, uh, they ended up in this situation.

Speaker 1: 01:36 And so what happened to the family? In other words, I know that, uh, the mother was here and she gave birth at a Chula Vista hospital. Well, what happened to the, the father and the other son?

Speaker 2: 01:47 Right? So right now, along the border of the United States has a mass turnback policy. So that means anyone who is crossing the border outside of a port of entry or without any legal reason to cross the border is almost immediately sent back sometimes in just hours. And that's, um, the department of Homeland security says that's to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. So, uh, the father and son were almost the nine year old son were almost immediately returned to Mexico, but because the mother was experiencing acute pain, um, and was obviously extremely pregnant and about to give birth, she was taking to a hospital in Chula Vista where she gave birth. But that whole time she says she had no idea where the father and son had been taken to border patrol agents. Didn't give her any information. And more importantly, border patrol agents didn't make exactly clear what was going to happen to her or her child, uh, in the next few hours

Speaker 1: 02:42 Because of the shutdown of the asylum system, as the Trump administration says, because of the pandemic, our asylum claims heard or evaluated by anyone anymore,

Speaker 2: 02:54 There is supposed to be a short interview that that kind of decides whether you have a credible fear of returning to Mexico. It doesn't actually have anything to do with your asylum claim, but it's kind of this very brief initial screening advocates say that under this new system, based on the CDC guidance that you know has to do with the pandemic, that's not really happening. People are just being sent back and we're not talking about just, you know, single men or families. We're also a lot of unaccompanied children are being picked up and dropped right back where they were found or at the closest port of entry. So people are literally being told to walk back across the border into some pretty desolate places, with very little provisions for their safety. Once they make that crossing or any help or assistance, if they've made a difficult crossing. So if they're already sick, if they're already dehydrated, a lot of times, what you're seeing here is they are being sent back to Mexico in that same condition.

Speaker 1: 03:50 All right. So the mother of this family gave birth in Scripps mercy hospital in Chula Vista automatically making her newborn a U S citizen. What happened after that?

Speaker 2: 04:02 Right? So one thing that, uh, this administration caught a lot of flack for was the family separation policy. And that was because if you crossed a, um, an adult and a child, the adult was prosecuted for illegally entering, and the child was taken into U S custody. And then ultimately the adult was deported. And that was the family separation. That was a huge issue for this administration. So they've been trying not to as publicly do as many separations. So instead what they do is something that we saw here, which is they gave the mother a choice. They said, you could stay with your child. And we're both returned back to Mexico, even though he's a U S citizen, or we can take the U S citizen child, put them in social services and you could go back to Mexico and that would be a family separation, but it would be done kind of under the guise of, of the mother's own volition, where she made that choice. Of course, very few new mothers would make a choice to put any distance between themselves and their child.

Speaker 1: 05:03 How quickly was she forced to make the decision

Speaker 2: 05:06 Within hours? Um, and her lawyers say that she really didn't have an understanding of the, uh, interview process, whether she was actually being interviewed with interviewed about her fear of return to Mexico, and whether this would be reuniting them with her partner and their son,

Speaker 1: 05:23 You report that the family, as you say, is now reunited in Tijuana, what is their situation there?

Speaker 2: 05:30 Well, it's two, Quanta's still remains extremely dangerous for migrants and asylum seekers. It's not a very welcoming place. Um, people there have been routinely assaulted, robbed murdered. We've seen this multiple times under the remain in Mexico program. On top of that, the pandemic has really closed off avenues and access to healthcare. Um, hospitals, they're like hospitals here increasingly, you know, have devoted their resources towards dealing with the pandemic on top of that, because they have very little status in Mexico or almost no status in Mexico. It's very difficult for them to access the care that they need. So she, in fact, hasn't seen a doctor since her release from Chula Vista.

Speaker 1: 06:10 Now this case has sparked a certain amount of outrage. Tell us what steps are being taken by immigration rights advocates.

Speaker 2: 06:18 So on Friday, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties filed a complaint with the office of inspector general, for DHS, kind of outlining the steps that were taken in this specific case and why they kind of fall don't follow the law and don't even follow DHS, his own policy. On top of that Jewish family service of San Diego issued a request to the customs and border protection to just parol this family into the U S a this has happened in other circumstances where basically as somebody who crossed the border recently gave birth. I covered a story in December. She gave birth after crossing the border border patrol again, tried or attempted some form of family separation, but they were allowed to stay together and paroled into the U S and allowed to continue their asylum claim in the West. So advocates really believe the safest way for these families to get through this process, especially dealing with a newborn newborn in a pandemic situation is just to allow them to continue their asylum claim in the U S again, they don't have any legal status once they're here, uh, besides being people who have claimed asylum, but they would be able to do it while we're uniting with their family here and, and have space and safety to pursue these claims.

Speaker 1: 07:35 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Adler, and max. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 07:40 Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.