A new complaint filed by the ACLU and Jewish Family Services details the horrific treatment of a Guatemalan woman who gave birth in a southern California Border Patrol station in February and alleges that Border Patrol agents ignored her and her husband’s pleas for medical care. The details are horrific—the woman, who is identified as Ana by advocates, ended up giving birth while standing up and clutching a trash can for support.
According to the complaint, Ana, her husband, and their two young daughters initially came to the United States from Guatemala to seek asylum in May of 2019, but were sent to Tijuana, Mexico as part of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. This policy, implemented in January 2019, sends asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration hearings, where they are forced to live in tent camps and are vulnerable to sexual assault, kidnappings, and even torture. Ana became pregnant while in Tijuana. After receiving threatening phone calls from the people in Guatemala her family was fleeing from, Ana and her family decided to once again attempt to migrate to the United States. Her contractions began as they crossed the desert. Per the Los Angeles Times:
On the way, she began to feel labor pains and her husband tried to call 911, the complaint says. When Border Patrol found them, her husband told agents that Ana needed immediate medical attention, but they were taken to the station for processing, the complaint says.
At the station, Ana was told by agents to sit down, but because of her pain, she stood, holding a garbage can for support.
About 30 minutes after she arrived at the station, in a coughing fit, she partially delivered the baby into her pants while standing and holding that trash can, the complaint says. Her husband heard the baby cry, lowered his wife’s pants and reached for the baby’s head.
An agent and medical staff also reached for the baby, some without gloves, the complaint says.
According to the complaint filed by the ACLU and Jewish Family Service, after Ana gave birth, she and her newborn were taken to a medical center for treatment, but they were later sent back to the Border Patrol station. She was only able to take a shower three days after giving birth, when she was finally released to the Jewish Family Service’s Migrant Family shelter.
Ana’s account in the complaint directly contradicts CBP’s account of what happened. A CPB press release from February 19 stated that “the mother did not appear to be in distress and did not request any medical attention,” and that “the medical staff, along with agents, prepared an area for the mother to give birth.”
“Thanks to the medical resources available in our stations, this woman and her child were well cared for and received immediate medical attention,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke in the press release, adding, “Our agents are well trained to manage the unexpected, and I’m proud of the work they did in caring for this mother.” In a statement he posted on Twitter on Thursday, Heitke disputed what he called the “unsubstantiated allegations” in the ACLU’s complaint and described the response of the agents as “heroic.”
But CBP (as well as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) has an extremely terrible record when it comes to its treatment of pregnant people. This complaint comes on the heels of a January complaint filed by the ACLU, which detailed the recent experiences of four pregnant women while in CBP custody, including a Border Patrol agent who repeatedly slammed one visibly pregnant woman into a fence and one woman who miscarried while detained and received no medical care while in CBP custody, despite bleeding onto the floor of her holding cell. The ACLU and Jewish Family Services, as well as a group of Democratic senators, are demanding that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General conduct an investigation.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, but rather part of a pattern of denying and delaying medical care, prolonged and unnecessary detention, and an excessive force by Border Patrol agents,” said Representative Joaquin Castro in a statement, adding, “In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, this abuse is even more alarming as the most vulnerable among us are the most at risk.”