Complaint filed on behalf of woman who gave birth in Chula Vista Border Patrol station

U.S. Border Patrol flag
U.S. Border Patrol flag.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A Guatemalan woman who gave birth in a Border Patrol station last month says agents ignored her requests for medical attention, leading to her partially giving birth while standing and clutching the side of a trash can, according to a complaint filed on her behalf Wednesday.

The woman’s version of the story, published in the complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security office of the inspector general, is quite different from what U.S. Border Patrol agents said happened.

The complaint was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Family Service.

“Because of those discrepancies and what we know are false statements and details, we are asking for the office of the inspector general’s investigation to get at what exactly happened and to take it from there,” said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.


Border Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement published three days after the woman’s apprehension, the Border Patrol said that “the mother did not appear to be in distress and did not request any medical attention” when she was caught with her husband and two daughters, ages 2 and 12, near the border. The statement says that when they realized the woman was in labor, agents and medical staff “prepared an area for the mother to give birth.”

According to the woman, whom advocates refer to only as Ana, that is not what happened.

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Ana and her family were initially put in the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, widely known as “Remain in Mexico,” which meant that they had to wait in Tijuana for their asylum case.

In January, when she was about seven months pregnant, officers denied the family entry for a scheduled court appointment, saying they could not take Ana to court because of the stage of her pregnancy, according to the complaint. Other pregnant asylum seekers in the program have complained of similar treatment at the border.

The family began receiving threats in Tijuana from the person they had fled in Guatemala, according to the complaint. Fearing for their lives, Ana and her family crossed illegally into the United States on Feb. 16.

On the way, she began to feel labor pains and her husband tried to call 911, the complaint says. When Border Patrol found them, her husband told agents that Ana needed immediate medical attention, but they were taken to the station for processing, the complaint says.

At the station, Ana was told by agents to sit down, but because of her pain, she stood, holding a garbage can for support.


About 30 minutes after she arrived at the station, in a coughing fit, she partially delivered the baby into her pants while standing and holding that trash can, the complaint says. Her husband heard the baby cry, lowered his wife’s pants and reached for the baby’s head.

An agent and medical staff also reached for the baby, some without gloves, the complaint says.

Though Ana felt joy that her daughter had arrived, she also felt humiliated at the way in which she had been forced to do so, according to the complaint.

Ana and her baby were taken to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. Her daughter was treated for influenza.

She was discharged and returned to the Border Patrol station, where she and her newborn spent the night, without an adequate blanket for the baby, according to the complaint, before the family was released to the Jewish Family Service Migrant Family Shelter.

It was only when she reached the shelter on Feb. 19, three days after giving birth, that Ana was allowed to shower, according to the complaint.


Because of the discrepancies between Border Patrol’s published statement and Ana’s version of events, the ACLU and Jewish Family Service called on the inspector general’s office to investigate what happened.

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The two San Diego-based nonprofits also recommended that Customs and Border Protection — the umbrella agency over Border Patrol — implement a new policy that any pregnant woman be taken to a hospital for evaluation immediately upon entering custody.

“Ana gave birth in her pants in a detention facility holding on to a trash can with ungloved staff reaching out for her baby,” said Kate Clark, an attorney with Jewish Family Service. “This is not OK in any circumstance.”

The complaint also calls for Customs and Border Protection to avoid returning new mothers and their babies to holding cells after discharge from the hospital. It reiterates recommendations from another complaint filed with the office in January asking for pregnant women to be officially excluded from Migrant Protection Protocols.

A group of 13 senators, including Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and led by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), additionally sent a letter Wednesday to the inspector general’s office calling for an investigation into Border Patrol’s treatment of pregnant women.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.