Feds Urged to Stop Sending Pregnant Women Back to Mexico

A Customs and Border Control agent patrols the U.S. side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico border east of Nogales, Ariz., on March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(CN) – One pregnant woman seeking asylum in the U.S. was sent back to Mexico after having escaped kidnappers there just four months earlier. Another went into labor in a makeshift immigrant camp near the international bridge linking the Mexican city of Matamoros with Brownsville, Texas, as other women in the camp came to her aid.

Two others reported that U.S. border officers told them they should have abortions, because the Trump administration did not want pregnant immigrants allowed into the U.S.

Those are just some of the stories outlined in a complaint to federal authorities filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is calling for an internal government investigation into the treatment of pregnant immigrants sent to Mexico while their asylum claims are processed in the U.S.

“Some of them are feeling very dejected,” Rochelle Garza, an ACLU staff attorney in Brownsville, said in an interview.

Garza spoke to some of the unidentified women whose experiences are described in the complaint. The descriptions are based on a series of interviews the civil rights group said it conducted this month.

“I asked [one of the women] what she was thinking about, whether or not to continue pursuing her case, and she said, ‘I don’t have any other options,’” Garza said.

The administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy – formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP – has drawn criticism from human rights groups who say it doesn’t protect immigrants at all, but rather exposes them to threats ranging from poor medical care to rape and kidnapping.

The ACLU complaint describes the experience of an 18-year-old woman from Ecuador who, after seeking asylum in the U.S., was sent to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, kidnapped, and then released after her family was extorted.

On Monday, the woman, who is now four months pregnant, was again sent back to Mexico after attempting to enter the U.S., according to the complaint.

“Once back in Mexico, she and other returned women could not leave the Mexican side of the port of entry due to known cartel scouts waiting to identify returning migrants for kidnapping,” the complaint reads.

This month, the Supreme Court allowed the “remain in Mexico” policy to continue as a legal fight plays out. The ACLU sued the Trump administration over the policy in a separate case.

But advocates have pressed for quicker action.

“At a minimum, DHS must cease the forced return of pregnant women and other vulnerable populations to Mexico under the MPP policy,” the ACLU said in its complaint Thursday.

In a statement released four days after the civil rights group announced the complaint, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said Tuesday that under the MPP policy, border agents are directed to follow a set of “guiding principles” for deciding which asylum seekers to send back to Mexico, and that pregnancy alone does not allow someone to remain in the U.S.

“Creating a categorical exclusion for pregnancy could have a range of potential negative implications, including the choice between the invasiveness of testing every woman for pregnancy versus making assumptions based on appearance,” the statement read. “Instead, CBP reviews every individual based on the facts before them, remaining guided by core values of vigilance, service, and integrity.”

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