The Border Patrol’s top brass lashed out Sunday at what they called a “false” report in the Los Angeles Times that agents separated an illegal immigrant mother and her newborn baby, saying the paper skewed the facts as it “sought to villainize” the agents.
The woman, a repeat illegal immigrant, jumped the border while in labor specifically to deliver her child on American soil, according to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan and Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott.
In a joint statement they acknowledged the woman and baby were separated for 45 hours last week, but said it was due to the baby’s medical complications and coronavirus restrictions at the hospital, and wasn’t intended to be long-term.
“We are sick and tired of our agents being villainized for placing their own personal safety and security behind that of others, and for enforcing the Congressionally-enacted laws of the United States,” the two agency leaders said.
They released a detailed timeline of events, beginning with the call from Mexican authorities at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday to agents in Eagle Pass, Texas. They responded to the location given and found an illegal immigrant, alone, who’d just given birth.
Both were taken to a local hospital where the child ran into complications, and the mother was told she couldn’t stay because of coronavirus protocols. Agents took her back to the Border Patrol station for processing early Thursday morning.
Later that day the child was flown to a hospital in San Antonio, but there was no room on the flight for the mother. Agents didn’t inquire about whether that hospital would allow the mother to stay — and, according to the LA Times, that hospital’s policy would have allowed it.
The border officials, in their statement, acknowledged that error, but said they made a “reasonable assumption” based on the other hospitals they work with.
The illegal immigrant was released from custody early Saturday, after the newspaper’s first story, and connected with a charity organization that took the woman to San Antonio and reunited her with her baby.
“We believe any rational person that reviews this entire illegal entry and the subsequent actions taken by the agents involved will come to the same conclusion that we did; these agents did everything in their power to ensure the safety of the baby, as well as the mother, who chose to illegally enter the United States, at night, in a relatively remote area, while in labor and ultimately giving birth in a field just north of the Rio Grande River,” the two officials said.
The vehement response from border officials shows just how touchy the issue of family separations is, following the 2018 “zero tolerance” policy implemented by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
That policy involved prosecuting illegal immigrant parents who jumped the border with children, hoping to take advantage of loopholes in U.S. policy that called for relaxed treatment of families that illegally entered. Because there are no family facilities in the federal criminal justice system, the parents and children were separated — but the administration was not prepared to reunited them.
Thousands of children were separated, and while most cases were resolved, some remain separated to this day.
In this latest incident the LA Times reported that the woman, who is from Honduras, had jumped the border earlier this year with a 6-year-old child and attempted to claim asylum, but was sent back to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols this administration instituted to cut down on bogus claims.
The two border officials, though, said the woman has jumped the border three times before, including once when she crossed the Rio Grande with the 6-year-old girl, then “left her alone along the river inside the U.S.” and swam back to Mexico.
“Eagle Pass agents did indeed find the little girl, an unaccompanied minor at that time, and worked to place her with relatives in California,” the officials said.