February 16, 2020

A Guatemalan woman and her family say that, while being processed in the Chula Vista Border Patrol station near San Diego, she was left to give birth “while standing up, holding on to the side of a trash can,” BuzzFeed reports. The woman, pregnant and experiencing contractions, had repeatedly asked the agents for help. “She was repeatedly told to sit down and wait to be processed, she said. …After about 30 minutes, her husband could hear the baby crying through the fabric of her pants.”

The family—father, mother, and two small children—had been sent to Tijuana in May 2019 under the Remain in Mexico program, where they had “spent nine months in a camp” and reported to the port of entry to attend three separate immigration hearings. Their next hearing was scheduled for May 2020; in February the family reported that their Guatemalan persecutors had found them in Tijuana and were threatening them, leading them to cross the border outside the port of entry.

While crossing the desert, the woman went into contractions. “They were soon apprehended by a Border Patrol agent,” BuzzFeed reports.

“The woman was in clear distress, and her husband begged the agent for medical attention, the complaint says, but instead the agent loaded the family into his car and giving them a ‘rough ride’ (an abusive practice in which some border agents reportedly purposefully drive badly so as to fling detainees around the car), the complaint says, and brought them to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station for processing.”

“The apprehending agent could visibly see that the woman was pregnant; however, the mother did not appear to be in distress and did not request any medical attention,” reads a release from CBP (original link). In April 2020, the ACLU and Jewish Family Service submitted a complaint to the DHS Inspector-General (original link). Thirteen Democratic senators signed a letter to the Inspector-General calling for investigations of this and other recent allegations of mistreatment in custody (original link).

Border Patrol San Diego Sector Chief Aaron Heitke tweeted, “CBP strongly disagrees with the unsubstantiated allegations against our agents & supports what appear to be nothing short of heroic actions by those on scene” (original link).

A July 2021 DHS Inspector General report finds that the woman gave birth 17 minutes after arriving at the Border Patrol Station, concluding, “we found Border Patrol provided adequate medical assistance to the mother and her newborn and complied with applicable policies” (original link). The report does find that, after the woman’s release from the hospital, video footage shows her spending a night with her newborn on a bench in a holding cell at the Chula Vista station.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Rough Rides

Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG