As we shelter-in-place, we read heartbreaking stories about how women are giving birth without their partner or a loved one in the room because of the risk of coronavirus contamination. Now imagine what it would be like to have a baby with no help at all. No comfort of a bed. No medical workers to assist. No medication. Nothing. That is what a 27-year-old Guatemalan woman endured on Feb. 16 as immigration officials watched and did nothing.
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego, Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) on behalf of the woman — referred to as Ana — alleges that border patrol officials did not seek medical care as she gave birth at the station. The lawsuit paints a horrid picture of how the woman, who was 8-months pregnant at the time, arrived with her family, at the U.S. border seeking assistance.
The ACLU explains: “The woman and her husband were arrested by the Border Patrol, but instead of transporting her to a hospital, the agents took the family to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station for processing. There, agents ignored her obvious distress, commanding her to remain seated even as she went into labor. Soon after arriving at the station, the woman partially delivered her baby into her pants while holding onto a garbage can. It was then that Ana was finally transported to a hospital.”
Deeply horrific. An 8-month pregnant woman with flu symptoms was arrested by CBP, denied medical care, & forced to give birth standing up. This inhumane treatment must end. I've led 12 colleagues in demanding a DHS investigation & @ACLU filed a complaint. https://t.co/wuZrOAhnRq
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) April 8, 2020
But Ana’s horrible birthing experience doesn’t end there. The lawsuit claims that several days after she gave birth, Ana was then forced to spend the night, once again, at the station with her baby, without the ability to shower or even have a clean blanket for her newborn.
“We are filing this complaint because CBP facilities, including U.S. Border Patrol stations, are categorically unsuitable for pregnant people and newborn babies. But the agency routinely and irresponsibly detains pregnant people, putting their health in grave danger by denying them access to proper medical care,” said Monika Y. Langarica, an immigrant rights’ attorney with ACLUF-SDIC. “This horrific case is just the most recent and one of the most egregious examples of this agency’s abuse.”
After her stay at the station, Ana, now the mother of three, was able to get medical treatment, a shower, clothes, food, and legal advice, at the JFS Migrant Family Shelter.
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Our mandate is to safeguard America’s borders and protect the public. This past Saturday, #CBP officers began implementing temporary restriction on non-essential travel at land ports of entry to #StopTheSpread. We are maintaining cross-border activities with Canada and Mexico that support health security, trade, commerce, supply chain, and other essential activities while taking critical steps to protect our citizens and employees to curb the spread of #COVID19.
This is not the first time border patrol officials have denied medical assistance to pregnant asylum seekers. The ACLU and the JFS list several demands on how the border patrol should proceed with sensitive matters such as pregnant women, including:
- stop detaining pregnant people and instead release them promptly to their families or sponsors in the United States;
- formally exempt all pregnant people from MPP and other abusive border policies;
- ensure that pregnant people taken into custody have access to proper medical care; and
- assess whether CBP disciplinary procedures are adequate accountability mechanisms.