HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. border agents have since Saturday detained a Cuban woman with her newborn son, one day after she gave birth in a Texas hospital, but were expected to release both of them later Wednesday.
The woman’s detention by U.S. Customs and Border Protection raised concerns that she was being held in a sparse holding cell without beds or the food and care needed by a new mother or a newborn, advocates said. Under federal rules, CBP is supposed to release most detained immigrants after 72 hours, a deadline that passed Tuesday.
As a U.S. citizen, the newborn boy would also not be ordinarily subject to immigration detention.
CBP said Wednesday that it would soon release the mother and child, and that their processing in Del Rio, Texas, was delayed due to increased border crossings in recent days. The woman’s name is being withheld by The Associated Press because her family fears she will face reprisals if forced to return to Mexico.
Text messages the woman sent to an advocate with the group Every Last One show that she reported being taken to detention Saturday afternoon, one day after she said she had given birth.
“We don’t know why she’s there so long, we don’t know what condition she’s in, we don’t know what condition the baby is in,” said Amy Cohen, the group’s executive director, prior to the agency’s confirming it would release the family. Cohen called the case “extremely alarming.”
According to CBP, agents checked on the family earlier Wednesday and they were both healthy. Cohen and other advocates had not yet been able to speak to the mother after her detention.
Border Patrol agents periodically respond to women close to giving birth — and sometimes in labor — though the agency has said it does not track how often. The agency says it treats pregnant women humanely and blames smugglers for using women as decoys. It also has previously said that U.S. laws granting birthright citizenship “could lead some to cross illegally as they are giving birth.”
CBP said in December that its agents’ priority in emergencies “is the preservation of life of everyone they encounter regardless of citizenship or background. The enforcement of laws becomes secondary.”
In October, the agency separated a Honduran woman from her newborn shortly after she gave birth in San Antonio, The Los Angeles Times reported. The woman was later released.
The Cuban woman had previously tried to cross the Rio Grande without authorization and had been expelled under public health policy authorities invoked under former President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has kept the expulsion policy in place while pausing or ordering reviews of several Trump programs intended to stop asylum seekers and other migrants.
The Border Patrol was sharply criticized for its role in separating immigrant families under the Trump administration and for the conditions in which families were detained in its stations during an increase in border crossings in 2019.
There are concerns among the government and advocates that unauthorized crossings could rise again early this year.
Customs and Border Protection is re-opening a large tent facility in South Texas for short-term processing of families and children who cross the border alone. And Health and Human Services, which operates long-term holding facilities for unaccompanied children, is re-opening an emergency facility at Carrizo Springs, Texas as soon as later this month.