September 8, 2020

An October 2020 ACLU document recounted the experience of “Ms. Eva Doe,” who fled Cuba with her husband in June 2019. When they arrived at the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo port of entry to request asylum in September 2019, they were taken into CBP custody. After two days, they were given an immigration court date and sent back across the border into Mexico, under the “Remain in Mexico” program, to await their proceedings. In March 2020, after being brought into the United States for several hearings, an immigration judge denied Ms. Doe’s and her husband’s asylum petition.

The ACLU complaint continues:

They both reserved appeal and were returned to Reynosa for an indefinite period of time. There, the couple faced the tremendous challenges of navigating a global pandemic in a foreign country, without critical resources. Ms.Doe and her husband both fell ill, yet due to their lack of access to medical care, they could not get treatment. Ms. Doe’s husband additionally suffered threats and extortion in Mexico.

Fearful of ever-present threats to their safety, overwhelmed by unrelenting pandemic circumstances, and without legal counsel, the couple was unable to timely submit their immigration appeal. Consequently, the pair made the difficult decision to request asylum once more at a port of entry—this time, in Tijuana. When they arrived at the port of entry, however, U.S. immigration officers told the couple that the border was “closed” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and turned them away.

On September 8, 2020, Ms. Doe and her husband crossed the border between ports of entry, turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents and requesting asylum again. The ACLU continues:

Agents transported Ms. Doe and her husband to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station. Once there, Ms. Doe notified the agents that she was pregnant, even showing them photos from a recent ultrasound she had undergone while in Tijuana. Notwithstanding, Border Patrol agents separated Ms. Doe from her husband immediately after processing.[6]

The Border Patrol forced Ms. Doe to remove all outer layers of clothing, leaving her upper body clothed in only a sleeveless, thin-strapped blouse. Border Patrol agents gave Ms. Doe a floor mat and silver colored plastic (Mylar) sheet to use as a blanket before placing her in a large holding cell.[7] The toilet and sink to which Ms. Doe had access in her holding cell lacked safeguards for privacy. Ms. Doe was never allowed to bathe while in Border Patrol custody and was instead provided a single moist towelette to clean her entire body every three to four days. She was also only provided a small plastic stick with a sponge tip every three to four days to brush her teeth. The Border Patrol kept the cell lights on 24 hours per day, which made it difficult for Ms. Doe to fall asleep. Ms. Doe felt very cold in the holding cell, unable to warm up with the Mylar sheet, and unable to sleep or rest. Despite her multiple requests, Ms. Doe was denied access to her prenatal vitamins and was never given an equivalent supplement while in CBP custody.

Border Patrol then separated Ms. Doe and her husband:

On her seventh day in Border Patrol custody, Ms. Doe observed agents taking her husband and his belongings out of the holding cell in which he had been detained. She was never given an opportunity to talk to him before he was taken away. She panicked as she saw the agents removing him from the facility, and began banging on the cell door pleading for the agents’ attention. An agent informed Ms. Doe that her husband was being transferred to an ICE detention center and that she would soon be transferred as well. She recalls an agent explaining, to her horror, that many pregnant women are detained in ICE custody and that she could give birth while detained.

As of ACLU’s October 2020 filing, Ms. Doe had been given a November 2020 court date and released from CBP custody. Her husband remained held at ICE’s Otay Mesa Detention Center.

Ms. Doe is currently five months pregnant. Her separation from the father of her child has caused her stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil. She fears that her husband might not be present for their first child’s birth, and that she will have to go through the experience alone without his support. Worse yet, Ms. Doe’s source of greatest distress is the possibility that her husband will be deported to danger in their country of origin, without ever being be able to see or hold their child.

— “Appendix of Unresolved Complaints” (El Paso: ACLU, March 3, 2021): 123

Footnotes from above:

[6]: On April 15, 2020, the ACLU submitted another administrative complaint regarding the separation of families during CBP detention and processing. A copy of this complaint is appended hereto as Exhibit C. It is also available online. See AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF SAN DIEGO & IMPERIAL COUNTIES, ET AL., ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLAINT RE: SEPARATION OF FAMILIES VIA CBP DETENTION AND PROCESSING, AND THE AGENCY’S REFUSAL TO IMPLEMENT A DETAINEE LOCATOR SYSTEM (Apr. 2020) [hereinafter “April 2020 Complaint”], content/uploads/2020/04/2020-04-15-OIG-Complaint-3-FINAL.pdf. Today’s second addendum echoes the troubling themes regarding family separation and incommunicado detention set forth in the April 2020 complaint.

[7]: During her first night in custody, Ms. Doe was detained with one other person. For the remainder of her time in Border Patrol custody, Ms. Doe was detained completely alone and separated from her husband.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Family Separation

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Cuba, Family Unit