A pregnant woman miscarried while in Border Patrol custody on July 4

Four migrants died the week of Independence Day.
Four migrants died the week of Independence Day.
Image: REUTERS/Loren Elliott
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A Guatemalan migrant miscarried while being processed by the US Border Patrol on Independence Day, according to internal agency emails reviewed by Quartz.

Border Patrol agents arrested the pregnant woman on July 4 near Imperial Beach, California, a town on the border with Tijuana, Mexico. While being processed, the woman “complained of vomiting and vaginal bleeding” and was transported to a hospital, where her miscarriage was confirmed, the emails say.

During processing the subject became ill and was transported to a local hospital. The subject is four months pregnant and complained of vomiting and vaginal bleeding. Hospital medical staff determined that the subject’s unborn child did not have a heartbeat and that the pregnancy was no longer viable. A medical procedure was performed to deliver the fetus. The subject will be processed accordingly, when medically cleared for travel.

Under US president Donald Trump, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reversed an Obama-era policy that required Border Patrol agents to release pregnant women from detention, absent extraordinary circumstances. The reversal was part of Trump’s zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration.

Since the reversal, miscarriages suffered by migrant women in US custody have doubled, according to records from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“This is a direct result of this administration’s policy choices,” said R. Andrew Free, a Nashville-based civil rights and immigration lawyer. “Border Patrol has the discretion to not detain them. But the reason they are is because they believe there has to be a consequence to deter future migration.”

Quartz has reached out to DHS for comment.

Approximately 30 migrants have died while in US immigration custody, including at least six children, since Trump took office. Some believe the actual figure could be still higher. 

Senate Democrats introduced a bill in March that would prevent DHS—which oversees ICE, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection—from detaining and shackling pregnant migrant women. 

And today (July 9), Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi lawmaker who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said he would introduce legislation to “prevent future tragedies” among migrants detained along the southern border. 

“The inhumane and unsafe conditions in which migrants are held for up to months at a time—which have led to the death of children in our care—are inexcusable and should shock the conscience of all Americans,” Thompson said in statement. “This bill will protect families, use real alternatives to detention, and ensure migrants are properly cared for while in custody.  We must set aside the Trump administration’s failed and cruel approach in favor of effective, coordinated action.”

Three other migrants also died after crossing the border during the week of the July 4 holiday, though not while in custody, according to the leaked emails. 

On July 1, Border Patrol agents encountered an “unconscious subject of unknown nationality” near Cowlic, Arizona. Agents administered CPR, but the migrant was later pronounced dead at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, according to the emails.

On July 2—also near El Paso, Texas—Border Patrol agents tried to help a Honduran national who was found unresponsive. The migrant was later pronounced dead at a local emergency room. 

And on July 4, a migrant from Mexico was struck by a car and killed near El Paso, Texas just as Border Patrol agents moved to apprehend them. 

In June, Texas authorities reported that seven migrants died due to extreme heat while crossing the US-Mexico border, including two toddlers and an infant. The same month, a 40-year-old Honduran woman died after collapsing at a Border Patrol station, and a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter drowned in the Rio Grande while attempting to cross into the US. 

Border Patrol reported that 286 migrants died while crossing the border in 2018. Human rights groups believe that number could be much higher since many missing migrants go uncounted. According to the UN Missing Migrants project, 184 migrants have died near the border so far in 2019.