Mothers Deported After Giving Birth, at the Height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, File Suit Against Federal Authorities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 20, 2024


The four mothers and their children are seeking compensation for the harm they suffered when, in 2020, federal officials held the mothers in custody while they were in labor in San Diego-area hospitals, then summarily deported them to Mexico with their newborn U.S.-citizen children.

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 20, 2024—Four mothers who, upon coming to the United States to seek asylum in 2020, were detained and then expelled to Mexico within days of giving birth, filed suit in federal district court yesterday, together with their U.S.-citizen children, seeking monetary compensation from the U.S. government. U.S. Border Patrol agents unlawfully detained the mothers’ U.S. citizen children without any authority to do so. They then wrongfully expelled the mothers and infants to Mexico without considering the grave dangers they faced there. Throughout these events, Border Patrol officials intentionally subjected these mothers and their newborn children to extraordinary trauma.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, details the excruciating suffering that these mothers and their newborn infants experienced as a result of the Border Patrol’s decision to detain and expel them shortly after childbirth, without any meaningful advance notice that they were to be expelled or any opportunity to request asylum or to arrange for the care of their U.S. citizen children with family members in the United States.

In their complaint, the mothers describe the harrowing circumstances in which immigration officers detained them. Uniformed and armed Border Patrol officials separated them from their older children and kept them under constant surveillance, even when they were in labor and delivery. Agents never told the mothers where their older children had been taken, nor did agents tell them what was about to occur—summary expulsion, while still in recovery from giving birth, to Mexico. Border Patrol agents then forced the mothers to cross the border into Tijuana, Mexico, without evaluating their claims for asylum or even assisting them in obtaining the medications that doctors had prescribed for them. In pain from childbirth, carrying their days-old babies, and with their older children in tow, the mothers were shocked to find themselves in Tijuana without money, food, cell phones, or other necessities.

Border Patrol’s unlawful actions severely traumatized all four mothers. One of the mothers, Ms. E.C.M.U., described the experience of having Border Patrol agents in the room, surveilling her while she gave birth, as one of the most degrading and humiliating experiences of her life. She was also frantic with worry about the wellbeing of her older children after the Border Patrol agents lied to her about where the children had been taken and threatened that she would never see them again.

The four U.S.-citizen infants also experienced severe harm. They and their mothers were trapped in Mexico, where they were at risk of violent persecution, torture, and death, without any means to support themselves. The babies often went hungry, and their mothers were unable to obtain necessary medical care for them. The U.S-citizen infants were each forced to remain in Mexico for more than 100 days, and, in one case, for more than a year, until they were finally able to return to the United States.

The families filing suit are represented by the National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA) and the Law Office of Bardis Vakili, PC.

“What should have been a joyous experience turned into a nightmare for these mothers and their babies.” said Mary Kenney, NILA’s Deputy Director. “While no amount of money can undo the trauma they suffered, they deserve compensation for the government’s unlawful actions.”

“At the moment these families were at their most vulnerable and desperate for help, Border Patrol agents chose to ignore their legal obligations and to inflict more suffering instead,” said attorney Bardis Vakili. “Post-partum mothers and their newborn babies should be treated with care, not summarily thrust into dangerous situations by government officials disregarding their duties.”

These mothers and children are not alone in what they suffered at the hands of federal border officials, nor is this type of mistreatment a thing of the past. Immigrants’ rights advocates have documented numerous instances of cruel and neglectful treatment of pregnant and post-partum individuals by CBP officers, some as recent as 2023, and have called for policies that allow them to pursue claims for asylum from the safety of their networks of care in the U.S.

The complaint can be found HERE.

For more information, contact:

Mary Kenney, National Immigration Litigation Alliance, mary@immigrationlitigation.org or 617.819.4681

Bardis Vakili, Law Office of Bardis Vakili, PC, bardis@vakililegal.com or 619.483.3490

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The National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA) is an immigrants’ rights nonprofit that strives to protect, enforce, and expand the rights of noncitizens and individuals perceived to be noncitizens by engaging in impact litigation and by building the capacity of immigration attorneys to litigate in federal court. Follow NILA at www.immigrationlitigation.org, on Twitter at @NILA_ImmLit, and on Facebook at NatImmLitAlliance.

The Law Office of Bardis Vakili, PC is a San Diego-based law firm with a focus on litigation and appeals in cases involving civil rights, immigration law, and government transparency, founded on the principle that justice must be accessible, and the government should be held accountable when it violates the rights of its people. For more information, visit www.vakililegal.com.

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