Numerous babies born in the United States—by law, American citizens—were removed from the country along with their mothers, without their birth certificates, under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, according to a report published Friday by The Guardian and the Fuller Project.
The investigation found that under the pretense of the coronavirus pandemic, at least 11 U.S.-born babies were expelled to Mexico since March 2020. However, advocates say the actual number of deported newborns could be much higher, as there were few public or legal witnesses to many of the fast-track expulsions.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials invoked Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order issued last March in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic under which thousands of unaccompanied children have been deported, to summarily expel anyone who unlawfully enters the country. Under the order, even asylum-seekers can be deported without the usual requisite due process of law.
One Honduran asylum-seeker featured in the report and named in an ACLU and Jewish Family Services complaint (pdf) to the Department of Homeland Security presented herself to U.S. border authorities at Eagle Pass, Texas last March along with her husband and 9-year-old son after crossing from Mexico. Five months pregnant at the time, the woman and her family were turned back under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols—or “remain in Mexico policy”—despite declaring their fear of violence to U.S. officials.
While waiting in Mexico for their immigration hearing in San Antonio, the family was accosted and held by a group of armed men, the first of numerous hardships they endured while waiting for their day in court. However, due to the pandemic, their hearing was postponed, although the family says they were never informed about this or about when they could return to the U.S.
In late June they decided to try again. They turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents in San Diego. By this time the woman’s pregnancy was near term, and she was experiencing “acute pain” due to complications. While the woman was taken to a local hospital, her husband and son were deported to Mexico.
After the woman gave birth to a baby boy in a San Diego area hospital, she was interrogated before being taken with her son to the border and dropped off on the Mexican side, where she has been unable to obtain medical care for her child.
Another Honduran woman in the report was given the option by CBP agents of surrendering her newborn to U.S. child services before being deported to Mexico.
“That’s not really a choice,” Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego, told The Guardian. “I know it’s cliche, but there’s a very Kafkaesque quality to these processes that really scrubs out the humanity of the migrants’ experiences. I have struggled to come up with language that adequately conveys the harm and the damage done.”
A Haitian woman profiled in a January report by The Intercept was nine months pregnant when she entered the U.S. in California last July. She went into labor in CBP custody and was taken to a hospital, where she gave birth to a baby girl. Two days later, she was discharged.
However, instead of being released to stay with relatives in the U.S. while she pursued her asylum case, she and her daughter were driven by CBP agents to the Mexican border and dropped off on the side of a road in Tijuana.
“When I crossed the border, that’s when I realized I was being taken to Mexico,” the woman said. “I started screaming, ‘What am I going to do with a baby, I don’t have any place to stay, anywhere to sleep.'”
That night, they slept on the street. The baby, a lawful U.S. citizen under the 14th Amendment, was not given a birth certificate.
“For all intents and purposes, that child is stateless, which is going to create a whole host of barriers… because they’re unable to establish citizenship,” Nicole Ramos, director of the Border Rights Project at Al Otro Lado (To the Other Side), a legal services organization for migrants, told The Guardian.
In earlier reporting about a handful of similar cases, women subjected to similar treatment described their ordeals.
“[CBP agents] told us it was because of [Covid-19] that they weren’t letting people cross and that they were returning them,” one Honduran woman deported with her newborn son who was born in Texas last spring told Texas Standard last July. “Even though the baby was born over there, that wasn’t their problem, they told us.”
Expelling migrants to Mexico places them in great danger. As The Guardian notes, the advocacy group Human Rights First has documented more than 1,300 cases of violent crimes—including murders, rapes, kidnappings, and assaults—among migrants subjected to the “remain in Mexico” policy.
Under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies, thousands of migrants were imprisoned in concentration camps, thousands of children were forcibly seized from their parents—with hundreds still waiting to be reunited—and tens of thousands of asylum-seekers were unlawfully denied entry into the U.S. and were forced to live in tent encampments in Mexico without access to adequate medical care, shelter, or legal aid.
These policies were embraced by an administration whose officials included notorious xenophobe Stephen Miller, whose top priorities for a second Trump term that was averted by President Joe Biden’s victory reportedly included an attempt to end or restrict birthright citizenship guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.
“It has become really clear that the right to life protection of the children is about protecting white, Christian children… not about brown children born to immigrant mothers,” Ramos said of the Trump-era policies.
Since taking office, Biden has moved to reverse some of Trump’s most harmful immigration policies, although a federal judge blocked—and CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have defied—the president’s order to halt certain deportations.
At the Biden administration’s urging, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday canceled scheduled arguments related to the “remain in Mexico” policy and Trump’s unrealized pet project, the southern border wall.