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Outraged Response Forces US Border Patrol to Allow 19-Year-Old Mother to Stay With Sick Newborn

"If this is what happens when a group of attorneys and reporters are looking, imagine what happens when they are not."

Customs and Border Patrol agents at the Scripps-Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, California with a child carrier.

Customs and Border Patrol agents at the Scripps-Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, California with a child carrier. (Photo: Wendy Fry/Twitter)

Immigration advocates celebrated a victory against the U.S. government's family separation practices Monday after a 19-year-old Honduran woman in California was paroled for an immigration violation and allowed to stay with her sick newborn baby at a San Diego hospital despite threats from Border Patrol agents the two would be separated.

The woman claimed she was told by U.S. immigration officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) she would be deported and her infant, who was transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Scripps-Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, would be placed with Child Protective Services.

"This is kidnapping," tweeted legal advocacy group RAICES.

The woman on Monday was allowed to remain with her child while her case proceeds through immigration court. 

Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director for legal aid nonprofit Al Otro Lado, the group that helped secure the woman's release, told the San Digeo Union-Tribune's Wendy Fry that lawyers initially had a difficult time getting to speak with their 19-year-old client.

"Although our attorneys arrived at the hospital on Sunday morning, CBP did not allow us to communicate with her until Monday afternoon, at which point she confirmed an agent had threatened her with separation," said Pinheiro.

As Rewire reported in May, separating migrant mothers from newborns has been on the increase as the Trump administration's crackdown on undocumented people continues. 

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According to the Union-Tribune:

The Honduran mother crossed the border Friday and turned herself over to Border Patrol agents, stating she was in labor and in need of medical assistance, which she could not get in Tijuana, her attorney said.

Agents took the pregnant woman to Scripps where she gave birth to an infant who had complications and needed to be placed in the Intensive Care Unit, [attorney Hugo Ivan Salazar Gonzalez] said.

While she was visiting her baby in the ICU, she asked a Border Patrol agent when she could be released with her child and that's when an agent told her she would be either going back to detention or returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protections Protocol program, her attorney said.

Al Otro Lado's Pinheiro credited the press and activists with pressuring CBP to reunite the two in San Diego.

"I am grateful to the journalists who showed up to cover this story, and believe that the resulting public outcry helped secure her release," Pinheiro said. "No person should be detained without access to counsel or be separated from their child without due process."

On Twitter, Al Otro Lado noted the presence of Border Patrol agents outside of the teen's hospital room and questioned whether CBP's declaration to the Union-Tribune's Fry that "the mother and newborn were never separated by CBP" illustrated the agency's end goal for the mother and child.

"If this is what happens when a group of attorneys and reporters are looking," Al Otro Lado tweeted, "imagine what happens when they are not."

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