September 8, 2020

Ms. Doe’s harrowing ten-day period of detention in DHS custody began on September 8, 2020, when she and her husband once again attempted to enter the United States, this time turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents and requesting asylum. Agents transported Ms. Doe and her husband to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station. Once there, Ms. Doe notified the agents that she was pregnant, even showing them photos from a recent ultrasound she had undergone while in Tijuana. Notwithstanding, Border Patrol agents separated Ms. Doe from her husband immediately after processing.

The Border Patrol forced Ms. Doe to remove all outer layers of clothing, leaving her upper body clothed in only a sleeveless, thin-strapped blouse. Border Patrol agents gave Ms. Doe a floor mat and silver colored plastic (Mylar) sheet to use as a blanket before placing her in a large holding cell. The toilet and sink to which Ms. Doe had access in her holding cell lacked safeguards for privacy. Ms. Doe was never allowed to bathe while in Border Patrol custody and was instead provided a single moist towelette to clean her entire body every three to four days. She was also only provided a small plastic stick with a sponge tip every three to four days to brush her teeth. The Border Patrol kept the cell lights on 24 hours per day, which made it difficult for Ms. Doe to fall asleep. Ms. Doe felt very cold in the holding cell, unable to warm up with the Mylar sheet, and unable to sleep or rest.

 Despite her multiple requests, Ms. Doe was denied access to her prenatal vitamins and was never given an equivalent supplement while in CBP custody. 

On her seventh day in Border Patrol custody, Ms. Doe observed agents taking her husband and his belongings out of the holding cell in which he had been detained. She was never given an opportunity to talk to him before he was taken away. She panicked as she saw the agents removing him from the facility, and began banging on the cell door pleading for the agents’ attention. An agent informed Ms. Doe that her husband was being transferred to an ICE detention center and that she would soon be transferred as well. She recalls an agent explaining, to her horror, that many pregnant women are detained in ICE custody and that she could give birth while detained. Ms. Doe felt frozen in that moment, unable to catch her breath, with her hands going numb, and her heart rate accelerating. Ms. Doe soon caught the attention of a medical provider in the station, who explained that she had most likely experienced an anxiety attack.

After nine days detained at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station, Ms. Doe was informed that she would be transferred to an ICE detention center. She was transported to a different location and spent her last night in a different holding cell with three other women. The following day, immigration officials transported her to an office where she was instructed to sign multiple documents she did not understand and told that she had court scheduled for November 18, 2020.

Thereafter, Ms. Doe was transported to a local San Diego hotel where she was greeted by Jewish Family Service San Diego Migrant Family Shelter (“JFS”) staff. JFS staff were the first to explain to Ms. Doe that she was out of immigration custody and would be reunited with her family in the United States after completing a fourteen-day quarantine period in the shelter. Ms. Doe eventually learned that her husband was in ICE custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, where he remains as of the date of this submission.8 Prior to learning his whereabouts, Ms. Doe spent thirteen agonizing days without hearing from him, worrying about his safety and wellbeing.

Ms. Doe is currently five months pregnant. Her separation from the father of her child has caused her stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil. She fears that her husband might not be present for their first child’s birth, and that she will have to go through the experience alone without his support. Worse yet, Ms. Doe’s source of greatest distress is the possibility that her husband will be deported to danger in their country of origin, without ever being be able to see or hold their child. 

Source: ACLU, “Unresolved OIG Complaints” p. 125, March 2020. <>

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Family Separation, Inappropriate Deportation, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG