U.S. border agency said it 'rescued' a Honduran woman and newborn. Then it separated them and detained her
About 50 people are being taken to a detention center after crossing the U.S. border in El Paso to seek asylum in June 2019. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
"Border guards save women at work," read the press release from Customs and Border Guard on Friday.
What border officials failed to mention was that a few hours after her alleged rescue, they separated the Honduran immigrant from her newborn and, according to lawyers and attorneys, arrested her for possible distance.
Border officials, who responded to an emergency call Thursday evening, found the woman shortly after giving birth to her baby, according to the CBP publication. They found her alone in a field in Eagle Pass, Texas. The officers first transported the mother and child to a nearby hospital, then the child was taken to an intensive care unit in San Antonio, just hours from where they are holding their mother.
"They told her that she would be sent back to Mexico without her baby," said Amy Maldonado, who is legally representing the mother. The woman's cousin is in Sacramento and spoke to her by phone while in custody. The newborn is a US citizen.
According to a statement from Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security's parent agency to Border Patrol, the woman and her newly born baby "both needed medical attention."
"A Border Patrol EMT provided critical care to the mother, a Honduran national and her newborn baby until EMS arrived on site. EMS took the family to a local hospital for further examination and treatment," the statement said. "After medical care, the child and their mother will be treated according to CBP guidelines."
Neither the acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, Mark Morgan, nor the agency's spokesmen immediately responded to requests for comment.
Amy Cohen, a child psychiatrist and senior executive at Every Last One, a nonprofit, said the hospital told her the baby would have to be in the hospital for seven to 10 days and that it would be "in distress" when it was born. Almost exactly three weeks ago, Cohen responded to an almost identical case of a mother born unassisted just over the U.S. side of the Mexico border, and customs and border guards kept her away from her baby for about four days, Cohen said. She has since been released from custody.
"These babies need their mothers," Cohen said. Speaking of the Honduran mother, she added, "And we doubt she gets much follow-up care in CBP detention, a breast pump or anything else to treat injuries she has from childbirth alone in the desert becomes."
The Honduran mother, whose name has not been released, had applied for asylum with her older child at the border in South Texas earlier this year, but border officials have accepted her into the controversial Remain in Mexico program, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols becomes MPP, sent them back to Mexico and gave them notice to appear in court on May 5th.
Under MPP, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been pushed back to dangerous Mexican border towns to await hearings in the United States, some for more than a year. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration closed the U.S.-Mexico border on all non-essential travel in March and indefinitely postponed most MPP hearings. The family will have another trial in December, Cohen said.
According to Maldonado, the mother, like hundreds of other parents waiting in refugee camps along the border, sent her other child over alone to seek asylum. This child has been released from custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the health and human services agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied children, and is with her cousin in Sacramento, she said.
"She was desperate," Maldonado said of the mother's decision to later crossbreed.
Maldonado said she and other lawyers along with Michigan Democratic MP Elissa Slotkin, Maldonado's representative, are trying to reach the mother in Customs and Border Protection at Eagle Pass to give her forms that would allow medical information to be exchanged about her newborn baby who is reported to be sick and the mother's access to legal representation.
The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the Department of Homeland Security for its "treatment of pregnant women or those in active work, childbirth, or postpartum recovery in CBP custody or subject to the MPP," according to a table created by The Civil Rights Bureau and Department of Homeland Security Civil Liberties committed at least 45 incidents involving pregnant women in the agency's care from January 2017 through last year at the request of the public.
The Inspector General for Homeland Security has also launched an investigation into the department's treatment of pregnant women. According to an April report by the Government Accountability Office, more than 100 complaints were filed between January 2015 and April 2019 about the care of pregnant women by customs and border guards, as well as immigration and customs control.
"Everyone who is pregnant needs increased medical care," said Mitra Ebadolahi, senior attorney for the ACLU, in a January statement of the complaint.
Under the pretext of the pandemic and just weeks before the November election, Trump officials have tried to expedite the deportation of immigrants.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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