Merkley, colleagues demand investigation into reported mistreatment of pregnant detainees

WASHINGTON, DC — Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with twelve of his Senate colleagues, are calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) to immediately investigate continued disturbing reports that pregnant detainees are severely mistreated while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.

In their letter to DHS OIG Joseph Cuffari, the senators requested an investigation into complaints of Border Patrol agents delaying or denying medical care to pregnant people, subjecting them to excessive periods of detention in adequate facilities, using excessive force and invasive searches, and using shackles and other restraints on pregnant detainees.

“This conduct is alarming enough on its own, but as the global pandemic continues to spread, it represents an even more serious threat,” the senators wrote. “Given the quantity and extremely disturbing nature of these reports, combined with CBP’s failures to respond to congressional inquiries into this matter, we write to strongly encourage you to open an investigation into CBP’s treatment of pregnant people as soon as possible.”

A recently filed American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit detailed the harrowing experience of one woman who, the complaint alleges, was eight months pregnant when she arrived at the southern border in mid-February while experiencing flu symptoms. According to the complaint, Border Patrol arrested her and, despite her repeated requests to let her seek medical attention, sent her instead to the Chula Vista Border Patrol station.

“As the woman’s coughing and pain intensified, the officers told her to sit down. Shortly after arriving to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station, she gave birth, standing up, delivering the baby into her pants, while holding onto the edge of a garbage can for support. Only then was she finally transferred to a hospital. She was returned to the station with her newborn two days later, where Border Patrol forced them to spend another night and refused to provide a blanket for the baby. She was not allowed to shower at the hospital or at the station after giving birth and before finally being released from custody,” the senators wrote.

The letter comes just days after Senator Merkley blasted DHS and demanded a separate investigation about reports that dozens of children are illegally being detained indefinitely at a family internment camp in Dilley, Texas. In June 2018, Merkley set off a national firestorm when he went down to the border to expose the administration’s child separation policy and was turned away from a child detention center in Brownsville, TX. Merkley has continued to be a vocal advocate for families and children who are fleeing persecution abroad. In December 2018, Merkley led a congressional delegation to investigate the conditions at Dilley and two other detention facilities in Texas.

In his ongoing effort to fight for fair and respectful treatment of human beings at our borders, Merkley has authored the No Internment Camps Act, legislation that would shut down Dilley and other family internment centers in the United States; the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act; and a congressional amicus brief urging the courts to uphold the Flores settlement in the face of Trump administration efforts to gut it.

Senator Merkley was joined in sending the most recent letter by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).