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How Border Patrol has kept newborns locked up with their moms

Kate Morrissey, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN DIEGO — Border Patrol has held newborn U.S. citizens in custody unnecessarily — sometimes for multiple nights — according to a government report released this month.

The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes Border Patrol, reviewed the agency's treatment of pregnant women and births in custody after a Guatemalan woman filed a complaint last year about what happened to her at a station in Chula Vista.

The woman, who was identified as Ana by the attorneys helping her, said in the complaint that she was denied medical care when Border Patrol agents apprehended her in February 2020. She was instead taken to a station, where she soon gave birth while standing and holding onto the side of a trash can for support.

The complaint alleged that many men were present around her as she gave birth — which made Ana feel humiliated — and that an agent reached for the newborn baby without gloves on.

At the time, Border Patrol denied the woman's allegations and welcomed the investigation.

While the Inspector General report found that agents "provided adequate medical assistance to the mother and her newborn and complied with applicable policies" in Ana's case, it criticized Border Patrol for holding her and her child overnight in a holding cell after they were released from the hospital.

 

The report found multiple instances of mothers who gave birth in custody and then spent up to several nights in custody before being released.

"Although some of these instances may have been unavoidable, Border Patrol needs reliable practices to expedite releases as the holding of U.S. citizen newborns at Border Patrol stations poses health, safety, and legal concerns," the report says.

Monika Langarica, an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, one of the organizations representing Ana, welcomed the report's findings about holding newborns in custody and the steps the report called for that would increase transparency and accountability for the agency. But she said it did not go far enough in its review of the circumstances in her client's case.

"The report fails to account for her pleas for medical attention starting at the point of apprehension, at the point of arrest, which I think gets at this larger point that Border Patrol should never have taken her to the station to begin with," Langarica said. "She was in distress, she needed medical attention and she should've been immediately been transported to hospital."

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