A U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Chula Vista / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Agents in the San Diego Border Patrol sector sent a newborn U.S. citizen to Mexico, according to a new administrative complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.

The complaint, which was filed by Jewish Family Service and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, details alleged mistreatment of the newborn’s family, asylum-seekers from Honduras, and calls for an investigation into the family’s treatment. It also urges U.S. Customs and Border Protection to immediately exempt all pregnant people from policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols and other fast-track deportation procedures.

“I think we’re certainly well aware the ways in which CBP in particular, including Border Patrol, often acts like it is above the law or immune to any consequences professional or legal when there is misconduct or abuse or mistreatment of people,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, a senior attorney at the ACLU. “None of that is, unfortunately, new. Much what was reported by this family is fairly consistent with these larger themes and trends.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, of which Border Patrol is a part, said it can’t comment on an active complaint, but that a “lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”

The couple at the center of the complaint fled from Honduras with their 9-year-old son about a year ago. They presented themselves at the border near Eagle Pass, Texas, in March 2020, to request asylum. At the time, the mother was approximately five months pregnant, according to the complaint.

The family stated they were fearful of returning to Mexico, but Border Patrol agents did not arrange for a so-called non-refoulement interview, which are conducted when an asylum-seeker who may be enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols – a Trump administration program that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. hearings – expresses a fear of being returned to Mexico. Agents gave the family paperwork, indicating they would have an interview on March 25, and sent them back to Mexico.

On March 25, the family attempted to make their way by taxi from Monterrey, Mexico, to the U.S. border for their court hearing. But on the way to the port of entry, the family was “accosted and detained by a group of armed men who attempted to extort them,” the complaint reads.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government had delayed the court hearing, though the family was never notified. The delayed hearing meant they hadn’t missed a court date but had made the journey that put them at risk unnecessarily.

The family fled Monterrey to Tijuana, hoping it would be safer, said Luis Gonzalez, Jewish Family Service’s supervising immigration attorney. But they continued to fear for their safety, and on June 27, they attempted to cross into the United States again to seek refuge.

When the family turned themselves into Border Patrol, the mother’s pregnancy was near full-term and she began experiencing acute pain, according to the complaint.

She was taken alone to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, while her partner and son were taken to a nearby Border Patrol station, where they were fingerprinted and photographed.

According to the complaint, the father told agents that he was fearful of returning to Mexico, but once again agents did not take any action to set up the legally required non-refoulement interview, the complaint reads. Agents also did not respond to questions about where his partner was taken. Around 1 a.m. on June 28, a Border Patrol agent transported the father and son to the pedestrian border crossing and were directed to walk into Mexico.

The father pleaded to be reunited with his partner and explained he did not want to be sent to Mexico without her, the complaint reads. The agent threatened the father by telling him he would call Mexican law enforcement to arrest him and take away his son.

“Terrified of losing his child after already being separated from his pregnant partner,” the father and son walked back to Mexico, the complaint says.

That same day, his partner gave birth to a baby boy in Chula Vista. She was also not given any information about her partner and, according to the complaint, throughout her hospitalization, Border Patrol agents interrogated her, “despite her acute pain and distress.”

After two days, Border Patrol transported her to the border, and instructed her to walk back into Mexico.

Eventually the family reunited in Mexico, but the mother and newborn, a U.S. citizen, have “been unable to obtain any medical attention,” despite instructions for follow-up doctor visits from Scripps Hospital.

“You are placing the newborn U.S. citizen in that situation as well,” Gonzalez said.

The Department of Homeland Security should have paroled the family into the United States, so the newborn and his mother could access medical care, he said.

“Fearful for their safety, the family remains confined to the room which they are renting,” the complaint reads.

The complaint outlines the ways in which Jewish Family Service and the ACLU believe the family’s experience violated Department of Homeland Security policies and U.S. law. First, the family was twice refused the non-refoulement interviews, after they expressed fear of being returned to Mexico. The mother, who was pregnant, also should have been exempt because of her health issue.

Finally, the complaint argues that the Department of Homeland Security has broad discretion to parole the family into the United States to await their pending asylum hearing because doing so would be in the best interest of their baby, who is a U.S. citizen.

“The agency has broad discretion and authority to act in a way that results in common sense and humane outcomes for everyone involved,” said Ebadolahi.

The complaint follows several others that Jewish Family Service and the ACLU have filed this year regarding the treatment of pregnant women and family separation by Customs and Border Protection. In April, the organizations filed a complaint detailing one woman’s harrowing experience in which she partially delivered her baby prematurely at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station.

The most recent complaint, filed earlier this week by the ACLU details verbal abuse by Border Patrol agents.

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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