A more than 15-month-long investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has been completed, following a woman in custody giving birth inside the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station in San Ysidro.
A pregnant woman and her family were arrested at around 2:30 p.m. on Feb.16, 2020, after allegedly entering the United States roughly three miles east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
According to the report, the family was brought by agents back to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station, roughly 30 minutes after apprehension, the station's video footage shows the pregnant woman beginning to deliver her child. After eight minutes, the child had been born.
According to the OIG, their review was initiated after a complaint was received on April 8, 2020, by the woman's husband, alleging he had requested medical attention for his wife from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents but was denied; as well as a letter received by the OIG from thirteen then-U.S. Senators calling for an investigation.
According to the Senators' letter, a woman, who was ill with the flu at the time, "gave birth, standing up, delivered the baby into her pants, while holding onto the edge of a garbage can for support." This description of the event was confirmed in the OIG's report following their review of the incident.
The OIG review found that while Border Patrol provided the woman and her newborn with "adequate medical assistance," they found that the Border Patrol's data on pregnant detainees were limited and that "the agency lacks the necessary processes and guidance to reliably track childbirths that occur in custody."
The report also highlighted that the OIG's review "of a sample of childbirths in custody showed Border Patrol did not always take prompt action to expedite the release of U.S. citizen newborns, resulting in some being held in stations for multiple days and nights" and that "Border Patrol agents do not have guidelines on interpreting for Spanish-speaking detainees at hospitals."
According to the report, the OIG requested records from Border Patrol since the 2016 fiscal year on data related to both pregnant women in custody as well as childbirths in custody and found that the agency "did not consistently track pregnancies" and that agents "use their own discretion to record these occurrences."
Further compounding the inaccurate tracking, the review found that the data that had been recorded on childbirths was maintained across three separate computer tracking systems: ENFORCE 3 (e3); Significant Incident Report (SIR); and Medical Payment Authorization Request Web System (MedPAR).
The OIG outlined in their report that it had reviewed the entries made in the three computer systems and found that there was a clear indication that childbirths had occurred at least 169 times, however, it was not made clear if one birth had been entered into multiple systems.
The second issue found during the review was that Border Patrol occasionally held newborn U.S. citizens and did not always expedite their release, citing they found some instances where Border Patrol held detainees for multiple days and nights.
Relating to the Feb. 2020 birth, the OIG report found that "after being discharged from the hospital, the detainee who gave birth at the Chula Vista station returned to the station with her newborn where they slept overnight on a bench, without a sleep space for the baby such as a crib or bassinet."
"At the time of the childbirth at the Chula Vista station, Border Patrol’s guidance for releasing detainees on their own recognizance with an NTA (notice to appear) required station personnel to submit requests to sector staff for review. According to this guidance, Border Patrol had to receive a declination of custody from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ensure that “every alternative be explored” prior to any release. The Chief Patrol Agent, the highest-ranking sector official, had to approve release requests and submit them to Border Patrol headquarters for final approval."
The report did acknowledge that the Border Patrol release authorization approval was conducted via email and could be completed quickly when the required steps and documentation were completed. It also recognized that the San Diego Sector, which oversees the Chula Vista station, had an alternative release process in place in which Border Patrol detainees were transferred to the Brown Field Border Patrol station, a centralized location where ICE personnel served release paperwork to detainees once-a-day at noon.
For detainees to be eligible for release at the centralized location, Border Patrol had to complete processing and include detainees on a morning list for release that day.
The February 2020 birth, however, was not the only instance in which a detainee and their newborn U.S. citizen were held overnight. The review found that in 10 instances out of 31 records reviewed by the OIG, that had entered into the MedPAR system, a detainee and their U.S. citizen newborn had been kept in custody for at least one night. In one case, they had been held for four extra nights.
At the completion of the review, the OIG issued four recommendations. The first recommendation was for the Chief of U.S. Border Patrol to "provide guidance to Border Patrol personnel about creating custody logs for newborn U.S. citizens held in Border Patrol custody."
Three recommendations were issued for the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection:
- To develop formal guidance with comprehensive processes for documenting childbirths that occur in custody;
- To implement standard practices to expedite the release of U.S. citizen newborns in custody following detainee childbirths;
- To develop written protocols for CBP personnel at hospital and healthcare facilities to defer, absent exigent circumstances, to hospitals and other local healthcare providers to provide interpreter services for in-custody, limited-English proficiency individuals when discussing medical information.
According to the report, CBP concurred with all three recommendations and is expected to complete the implementation of all three by July 31, 2022.
To view the OIG report, click here.