A Border Patrol agent is positioned by the border fence.
A Border Patrol agent is positioned by the border fence. Photo by Chris Stone

Eleven U.S. senators asked the Department of Homeland Security this week to direct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to change its policies regarding the detention of pregnant women, following the case of a woman who reportedly gave birth while in custody at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station last year.

The letter dated Monday to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas states that an Office of Inspector General report released this year regarding the woman’s case shows that current U.S. Customs and Border Protection policy is “wholly inadequate and has exposed pregnant people and their U.S. citizen newborns to serious dangers related to their health and safety.”

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and Jewish Family Service of San Diego filed an administrative complaint last year, which stated that the 27-year-old Guatemalan woman was seeking asylum when she was arrested and taken to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station instead of a hospital.

While in CBP custody, she partially delivered her baby while standing and holding onto a garbage can for support, was subsequently taken to a hospital, then was transported back to a Border Patrol station cell with her baby just days after the birth.

The letter seeks a policy change similar to that recently instituted by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which holds that ICE “should not detain, arrest, or take into custody” people who are “known to be pregnant, postpartum, and/or nursing.”

The proposed policy sought by the 11 senators who co-signed the letter would have CBP limit the time that pregnant women and their families are in custody to “the minimum time period necessary to process them for release from CBP custody, and strictly prohibit them from being detained overnight.”

The proposal also would require CBP to proactively address the needs of pregnant women and ensure they and their families are released from CBP custody “as soon as possible after discharge from an offsite hospital, and that they are not transferred back to CBP detention for any purposes, including processing.”

Monika Langarcia, ACLUF-SDIC immigrants’ rights staff attorney, said, “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.”

Kate Clark, Jewish Family Service of San Diego senior director of immigration services, said the requested 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.”

A full copy of the letter is available at www.blumenthal.senate.gov.

City News Service contributed to this article.