Skip to content

Senators Demand DHS Watchdog Launch Investigation Into Reported Mistreatment of Pregnant Detainees by CBP Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

New ACLU complaint recounts harrowing experience of 8-months pregnant woman with flu symptoms who was arrested by Border Patrol, repeatedly denied medical care, and forced to give birth standing up at a patrol station

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led a group of 13 senators calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) to immediately investigate continued disturbing reports that pregnant detainees are severely mistreated while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Senators called on DHS OIG Joseph Cuffari to investigate complaints of Border Patrol agents delaying or denying medical care to pregnant people, subjecting them to excessive periods of detention in inadequate facilities, using excessive force and invasive searches, and using shackles and other restraints on pregnant detainees.

“This conduct is alarming enough on its own, but as the global pandemic continues to spread, it represents an even more serious threat,” the senators wrote. “Given the quantity and extremely disturbing nature of these reports, combined with CBP’s failures to respond to congressional inquiries into this matter, we write to strongly encourage you to open an investigation into CBP’s treatment of pregnant people as soon as possible.”

The most recent report of such mistreatment from a recently-filed American Civil Liberties Union complaint is the harrowing experience of one woman who was eight months pregnant when she arrived at the southern border in mid-February while experiencing flu symptoms. Border Patrol arrested her, and despite her repeated requests to let her seek medical attention, she was instead sent to the Chula Vista Border Patrol station. “As the woman’s coughing and pain intensified, the officers told her to sit down. Shortly after arriving to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station, she gave birth, standing up, delivering the baby into her pants, while holding onto the edge of a garbage can for support. Only then was she finally transferred to a hospital. She was returned to the station with her newborn two days later, where Border Patrol forced them to spend another night and refused to provide a blanket for the baby. She was not allowed to shower at the hospital or at the station after giving birth and before finally being released from custody,” the senators wrote.

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The full letter to DHS OIG is available here and copied below.

Blumenthal has repeatedly raised concerns about the serious mistreatment of pregnant people by immigration enforcement officials. In February, Blumenthal led a group of 14 senators demanding answers from CBP following reports of the issue. The February letter followed a March 2019 hearing on the subject and CBP’s subsequent, alarmingly contradictory answers.

In October 2017, Blumenthal wrote then-Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Elaine Duke and then-Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan asking for a clarification of policies and additional information about the detention of pregnant woman. That letter is available for download here.

Blumenthal is also an original co-sponsor of the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, which would protect the health and safety of pregnant women and youth by reinstituting the presumption of release of pregnant women and youth in immigration detention, further prohibiting DHS from shackling pregnant women in its custody, and setting new standards of care and transparency for the treatment of pregnant women and youth.