From Texas Public Radio:
A small apartment on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande is not where a 23-year-old Honduran mother thought she’d end up after fleeing her home country.
She agreed to speak with Texas Public Radio if her name was omitted from this story.
The mother paced around the room trying to get her baby daughter to fall asleep on her shoulder.
Her baby girl wore a striped yellow and white jumpsuit with a pink bow on her head.
She said her story starts last year when she and her family left their home country.
The mom said members of MS13, a street gang, started pressuring her husband to join and help sell drugs and threatened the family if he didn’t, so they left Honduras to seek asylum in the U.S.
“We entered at the end of March,” she said.
Her baby was almost due when she, her husband and young son made it across the Rio Grande into South Texas a couple of months ago.
After they crossed she said they were detained and taken to a Border Patrol facility.
“Inside, that’s when I started to get stomach pains,” she said.
Border officials took her to a local hospital in the Rio Grande Valley where she had her baby girl.
She showed TPR paperwork from the hospital that confirmed she delivered her baby there just after 11 a.m.
But, she said, a day after she had her baby, the two were brought back to the border patrol facility. She thought they’d be able to join someone they knew who was living in the U.S.
Instead, a few days later, they were taken to an international bridge.
“They told us it was because of COVID that they weren’t letting people cross and that they were returning them,” she said. “Even though the baby was born over there, that wasn’t their problem, they told us.”
In a May press conference in Arizona, Acting Department of Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf expressed why he thought Title 42 expulsions under the March CDC order were necessary.
“And that’s critically important because what the CDC as we came into this pandemic said is that Border Patrol stations, we do not need to keep people there for long periods of time and so this authority is designed to make sure that we apprehend them, we can process them quickly and then we can remove them even quicker,” he said.
CBP officials said in a statement, “The Title 42 CDC order has allowed our agents on the border to swiftly expel illegal aliens back to Mexico without bringing them into contact with other migrants and CBP personnel. By processing in the field and quickly expelling individuals who cross illegally, we protect them, our agents, and the American public from potential exposure to COVID-19.”
However, other stories like the Honduran mother are getting attention.
Buzzfeed News reported that another pregnant woman, of a different part of the border, gave birth in the U.S. and she and her baby were expelled.
Lee Gelernt is an attorney with the ACLU, which along with other organizations, filed a lawsuit against the federal government over this new expulsion rule.
Honduran Teenager Lawsuit by Texas Public Radio on Scribd
“We believe children and asylum seekers can be safely brought into the United States, quarantined if necessary, tested, but they cannot be denied a hearing and that the laws congress passed specifically provide for hearings, especially for children and asylum seekers,” said Gelernt.
Gelernt isn’t working with the Honduran mother across the border from South Texas, but he is representing a 16-year-old boy who fled Honduras seeking refuge in the U.S. and hoping to reunite with his father who is waiting for his immigration proceeding in the U.S.
Gelernt said that a federal judge, in a preliminary ruling, sided with the ACLU and said the boy had a right to apply for asylum.
“The government was not going to give this boy an asylum hearing until it got a negative ruling from the judge and then all of sudden decided that they would provide this boy with rights,” said Gelernt.
Gelernt said the ACLU believes people have a right to seek protection in the U.S., even during a pandemic.
“It feels very much like the government does not want the courts to look at their new policy,” he said.
A 13-year-old girl from El Salvador, who was expelled back to her home country, was also a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and other organizations.
13-Year-Old Girl El Salvado… by Texas Public Radio on Scribd
Gelernt said they plan on pursuing more cases and will continue to represent more families and kids.
Back at the apartment, the Honduran mother said she told border officials they were doing something illegal because her baby was born in the U.S.
“But none of that mattered to them,” she said.
She said she begged them to please at least let her and her baby stay because she’d just given birth and they had nowhere to go in Mexico.
The mother said U.S. officials dropped them off at the international bridge, then Mexican immigration officials showed up and told them to leave.
Because of COVID-19, local shelters weren’t taking people in, so that night, she said, her family slept in a park.
Karla Vargas, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said if Title 42 expulsions weren’t happening and if the federal government followed immigration law, then the Department of Homeland Security could have exercised its direction and released the woman’s family into the U.S. so they could wait for an immigration proceeding.
“The child is a U.S. citizen, so nothing should happen to the child in terms of immigration because the child was born here and the mother should be allowed the opportunity to continue her immigration case as required by law,” she said. “Right now the government isn’t necessarily giving children or adults anything, but what the government is doing is preventing these individuals from exercising the right that they have under the law.”
The Honduran mother said eventually — after two nights of sleeping in a park — she got in touch with an advocate who connected them to a local nun who helped them find this apartment in Mexico.
Sister Catalina was the nun who helped the Honduran woman and her family.
“For me it seemed inhumane,” she said. “How could a person in that vulnerable situation — and knowing what she’s been through — and knowing that she had just given birth be returned? It seemed inhumane to me.”
Now, the family is not sure what’s next because they don’t have any legal representation. Her husband said they still hope to get their kids into the U.S. and seek asylum.
“We don’t feel safe in Mexico,” he said. “It’s dangerous where we’re staying.”
In the meantime he got a job locally to pay the rent while the family waits for the border to reopen.
CBP officials said in a statement, “By law, U.S. Citizens cannot be deported or expelled. The mother is not a U.S. citizen. As a matter of policy, CBP does not comment on pending litigation. However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”
The mother isn’t currently involved in any lawsuits against the federal government, but the Title 42 expulsions are being challenged by the ACLU and other organizations.
This is the third installment in a four-part series on rapid expulsions at the U.S.-Mexico border. You can view the entire series here.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos.