Immigrant Mom Must Return To Mexico – With Or Without Her Newborn Child
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Trump administration has effectively shut down the asylum system at the southern border during the coronavirus pandemic. Against that backdrop, one asylum-seeking mother was given an agonizing choice last month - turn the baby she had just given birth to in the U.S. over to child services here and then leave the country or return to Mexico with her child. Max Rivlin-Nadler of member station KPBS has this story.
MAX RIVLIN-NADLER, BYLINE: Fleeing violence in Mexico, one Honduran family decided to cross into the U.S. illegally last month. They then turned themselves over to Border Patrol agents in the desert near San Diego. The father and son were immediately returned to the border and told to walk back to Tijuana, but the mother, who was pregnant, was in pain. So Border Patrol agents took her to a nearby hospital, where she gave birth. Two days later, she was given a choice - go back to Mexico with or without her newborn.
MITRA EBADOLAHI: That's not a choice. That's not a legitimate choice.
RIVLIN-NADLER: Mitra Ebadolahi is an attorney with the ACLU. She said the mother and the baby, who is a U.S. citizen by birthright, were returned to Mexico.
EBADOLAHI: These people, both the mother and the father, were literally driven in a patrol vehicle to the border and forced to walk across into Mexico by armed agents. I don't see choices there.
RIVLIN-NADLER: A Border Patrol spokesman said the mother has no legal right to be in the U.S., and the mother could have simply chosen to turn her newborn son over to child services in the U.S. Since the pandemic ramped up in March, the Department of Homeland Security has closed the border to nearly all asylum seekers. In June alone, the U.S. turned back more than 27,000 people. In May, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolfe visited the San Diego border.
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CHAD WOLF: We needed to make sure we did not house those individuals in our facilities both for our workforce protection and protection of the American people and protection of other migrants.
EBADOLAHI: This doesn't have to happen.
RIVLIN-NADLER: Again, Ebadolahi with the ACLU.
EBADOLAHI: There are mechanisms in place. There is authority for the agency to parole family units into the United States, where they can pursue their asylum claims safely and in a humane way without separation, without additional trauma.
RIVLIN-NADLER: The ACLU, along with Jewish Family Service of San Diego filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general on Friday. They say the family was denied their legal right to an interview to determine if they were in danger in Mexico. The organizations asked Customs and Border Protection to allow the family to enter the U.S. to continue their asylum process. Luis Gonzalez is an attorney with Jewish Family Service. He says just because the law is unclear doesn't mean the family should automatically be sent back to Mexico.
LUIS GONZALEZ: This could have been resolved by DHS by exercising their discretion to parole the entire family together into the United States.
RIVLIN-NADLER: The family has since reunited in Tijuana. The mother hasn't been able to access care in Mexico because local medical professionals are stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the Trump administration extended the turnback policy along the southern border indefinitely. For NPR News, I'm Max Rivlin-Nadler in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.