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Migrant mother forced to sleep on bench with newborn, report says

The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security found no wrongdoing by the Border Patrol.

SAN DIEGO — An inspector general's report on the Department of Homeland Security said a migrant detainee at the border gave birth in her pants and was forced to sleep on a bench with her newborn.

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties filed a complaint on the woman's behalf last year, asking the inspector general's office to investigate the U.S. Border Patrol's treatment of pregnant detainees and called the woman's experience "horrific."

"The agency routinely and irresponsibly detains pregnant people, putting their health in grave danger by denying them access to proper medical care," ACLU immigrant rights' attorney Monika Y. Langarica said in a statement at the time. “This horrific case is just the most recent and one of the most egregious examples of this agency’s abuse."

The complaint alleged that the woman who was detained with her family at the border in San Diego County gave birth in her pants while holding onto a garbage can on Feb. 16, 2020, and was subsequently mistreated by agents.

A group of 13 senators, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), also called on the Office of Inspector General to investigate.

The report released Tuesday found that the Border Patrol did not mistreat employees but said the woman started to give birth nine minutes after arriving at the agency's Chula Vista station. It said she and her newborn returned from a hospital to the station, where they slept on a bench "without a sleep space for the baby such as a crib or bassinet."

The Office of Inspector General found 23 other instances of newborns held at Border Patrol stations after childbirth between 2016 and late 2020.

"We found instances when Border Patrol held detainees and their newborns overnight, some for multiple days and nights," the report stated.

The agency's main option, it said, was to release mothers and newborns, since it is not equipped for family detention.

The woman spent nearly two days at a nearby hospital before returning to station overnight and was released from custody on Feb. 19, 2020, the report said.

Though the report did not find wrongdoing on the part of Border Patrol officials, it found the agency could not say how many pregnant women had been detained because "it did not consistently track pregnancies."

"We found that Border Patrol’s data on pregnant detainees is limited and the agency lacks the necessary processes and guidance to reliably track childbirths that occur in custody," the report said. "In addition, our review of a sample of childbirths in custody showed Border Patrol did not always take prompt action to expedite the release."

The Chula Vista birth came as the Trump administration dealt with an influx of migrant families at the border and deported hundreds of migrant children in the name of pandemic safety.

Earlier this month President Joe Biden unveiled a new policy that largely prohibits the detention of pregnant, nursing and postpartum women who have been caught crossing the border illegally.