SAN DIEGO – Today, following an administrative complaint filed by ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLU) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS), members of Congress led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas demanding policy changes instructing against the detention of pregnant people in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
The demand comes as a result of an OIG investigation prompted by ACLU and JFS on April 8, 2020, regarding an incident in which a woman seeking asylum experiencing pain was arrested and taken to the U.S. Border Patrol station in Chula Vista, rather than a hospital for care. This resulted in the woman partially delivering her baby while standing and holding onto a garbage can. After returning from the hospital, the woman and her newborn U.S. citizen baby were forced to spend a night in a cell at the Border Patrol station. The complaint called for an immediate investigation of the U.S. Border Patrol’s mistreatment of the woman and demanded that CBP stop detaining pregnant people and instead prioritize their prompt release.
Blumenthal’s letter urges that “a change in CBP policy is required to prevent what happened to [ACLU and JFS’s client] from ever occurring again.” The letter proposes a policy containing four key parameters: minimizing the time that people who are pregnant, postpartum, and/or nursing and their families are detained to the minimum period necessary to process them for release into the U.S.; guaranteeing that the health and safety of people who are pregnant postpartum, and/or nursing is prioritized; proactively addressing the urgent needs of people who are pregnant, postpartum, and/or nursing for medical care, including requiring prompt transport to offsite hospitals where warranted; and ensuring that, together with their families, such people are released from CBP custody as soon as possible after discharge from an offsite hospital.
This demand is aligned with a policy directive issued earlier this year by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) saying “[g]enerally, ICE should not detain, arrest, or take into custody” people who are “known to be pregnant, postpartum, or nursing.”
Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services for Jewish Family Service of San Diego, said about the letter, “We applaud Sen. Blumenthal for his leadership in investigating the incident experienced by our client and his conclusion, supported by many colleagues, that policy changes must be enacted to ensure no one is forced to give birth in custody or immediately returned to a carceral setting with a newborn baby. By aligning these policies with those implemented by ICE, we can help ensure pregnant people and their families are treated with dignity and compassion as they seek their legal right to asylum in the U.S.”
Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, added: “No parent should ever have to endure the trauma and abuse our client suffered when she was forced to give birth in a Border Patrol station and return for a night of postpartum detention with her newborn U.S. citizen baby. We can prevent this kind of mistreatment from ever happening again by altogether avoiding the detention of people who are pregnant, postpartum, or nursing. We welcome the senators’ demand to change CBP policy as a step towards rebuilding our asylum system at the border into one that welcomes people with dignity and humanity.”
ACLU and JFS echo the senators’ letter and reiterate their demand that CBP stop detaining people known to be pregnant. This change would resolve the now-documented deficiencies in the agency’s tracking of childbirths and detention of U.S. citizen newborns, as well as other longstanding abuses and mistreatment suffered by pregnant people in their custody.
A copy of the original ACLU and JFS complaint can be viewed by clicking here.