Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
A pregnant Mexican woman suffering from a life-threatening medical complication tried to enter the U.S. to plead asylum only to be told to wait her turn — until a U.S. senator intervened.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who visited a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, over the weekend, trailed behind the woman and her family as they tried to cross the bridge into El Paso. The family approached Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers on Saturday and identified themselves as asylum-seekers, the Washington Post reported.
“We’re full,” the officers responded, according to the Post.
That’s when Wyden stepped in. He told the officers he was a U.S. senator and reminded them that Mexican citizens are exempt from the Trump administration’s “metering” policy, which caps the number of asylum seekers who can enter the U.S. through official ports of entry each day. According to the Post, the two officers called a supervisor who then let the family cross into the U.S. to plead for asylum.
CBP officials told Wyden that the woman would be taken to a hospital for evaluation shortly after being processed. But by Saturday night, it wasn’t clear where the family, according to the Post.
The woman had previously diagnosed with preeclampsia, Lauren Herbert an Oregon doctor who visited the border with Wyden, told the Post. The condition, characterized by high blood pressure, can be fatal for both pregnant women and their unborn children.
A CBP spokesperson told the Post that the family, which was fleeing cartel and government violence in Guerrero, would have been allowed in if they had told the officers they were Mexican — and that the woman was pregnant. But the family, which asked the Post not to use their names, gave the officers a folder with birth certificates and other documents that identified them as Mexican nationals.
Other reports also detail people with medical conditions being forced to stay in Mexico as part of the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security has said immigration officers can make exceptions for “vulnerable” people, including those with “known physical/mental health issues.” In theory, that includes pregnant women and disabled people — but advocates have plenty of examples of those populations being turned away.
In March, immigration officers forced a 27-year-old asylum-seeker from El Salvador to stay in Mexico as part of the Remain in Mexico policy, even though he showed them paperwork from his doctor that said he has the cognitive age of a four-year-old, The Guardian reported Sunday. Immigration officers separated the man, who The Guardian identified as José, from his cousin who served as his primary caretaker in El Salvador.
It’s not clear how often CBP officers turn away Mexican asylum-seekers — or pregnant women — as part of the metering policy, but Taylor Levy, the attorney who led Wyden’s visit to Juarez said his presence made all the difference for this family.
“I feel very confident that if the family had tried to present alone, they would not have been allowed in,” Levy told the Post.
Cover image: United States Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat of Oregon) speaks to the media Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 14, 2019. Credit: Chris Kleponis / CNP | usage worldwide Photo by: Chris Kleponis/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images