February 18, 2020

An ACLU complaint to the DHS Inspector-General cited the recent case of “Baby Sofía,” a six-week-old infant whose Honduran parents were apprehended in Border Patrol’s San Diego sector (original link).

The agent who transported the family to a nearby Border Patrol station subjected them to a reckless “rough ride,” causing Sofia to be jostled severely in her carrier as the Border Patrol vehicle traversed uneven terrain.[37] At the station, the agent who fingerprinted the family yelled at Gloria [the mother] and told her she was a terrible mother for bringing her baby to the United States.[38]

While the family was in custody, Sofía became ill. Agents brought the mother and daughter to a nearby emergency room, leaving the father in custody.

“At the emergency room, a doctor determined that Sofia was dehydrated and constipated. The doctor explained that there was little he could do for the baby, and insisted that the baby see a pediatrician as soon as possible. Instead—and in direct contravention of this medical advice—the Border Patrol returned Gloria and Sofia to detention.”

Through a second day in custody, the baby’s condition worsened. Mother and daughter were taken to a nearby children’s hospital.

“The examining physician again concluded that the infant was dehydrated and constipated, and administered a rectal suppository to help move the baby’s bowels. The doctor also scolded the Border Patrol agents who had accompanied Gloria and Sofia to the hospital, admonishing them that the conditions inside the facility (as Gloria had described them) ‘[were] no conditions for a newborn.'” Agents failed to follow doctors’ recommendation that the baby be given prune or fruit juice to soften her bowels.

Following two more days in custody and another visit to the emergency room, Border Patrol released the family to the San Diego migrant respite center. Sofía’s mother said that, since a final check-up in Tijuana, the baby’s weight had dropped in custody from 11.46 points to 8.82 pounds.

— ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol’s Abuse and Mistreatment of Detained Sick Children,” Letter to DHS Inspector-General Joseph V. Cuffari, February 18, 2020 https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-02-18-dhs-oig-cmplt-2-final.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[37] A “rough ride” is a euphemism for the practice of intentionally operating a vehicle in a manner that causes passengers physical harm, fear, or other discomfort. See, e.g., A.C. Thompson, “Dirtbag,” “Savages,” “Subhuman”: A Border Patrol Agent’s Hateful Career and the Crime That Finally Ended It, PROPUBLICA, Aug. 16, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/border-agents-hateful-career-and-the-crime-that-finally-ended-it; Ieva Jusionyte, Pain on the Border: Fieldnotes from a Migrant Aid Center in Nogales, Mexico, REVISTA: HARVARD REVIEW OF LATIN AMERICA (“Displacements” Issue) (Winter 2017), https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/pain-border.

Infants are uniquely vulnerable to head and spine injuries, especially traumatic brain injuries, even when in appropriate car seats during motor vehicle accidents. See, e.g., Camille L. Stewart et. al., Infant Car Seat Safety and Risk of Head Injury, 49 J. PEDIATRIC SURGERY 193, 195 (2014), https://www.jpedsurg.org/article/S0022-3468(13)00773-2/pdf.

[38] ACLU has additional identifying details about this agent, which it can share with OIG upon request.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Rough Rides

Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras