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The Struggle Of A Pregnant Asylum Seeker On The U.S.-Mexico Border

By Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Texas Public Radio

The ACLU filed a complaint last week against the Department of Homeland Security for turning away pregnant asylum seekers.

The complaint claims the U.S. government is sending these women to dangerous parts of Mexico, where they have limited access to food and healthcare, while they wait for their immigration court hearings.

Seventeen women are listed in the complaint. One of them is Yulisa, a 20-year-old asylum seeker from Peru who is nine months pregnant. She requested Texas Public Radio only use her first name out of fear she could later be denied permanent asylum.

Last week, Yulisa waited near the international bridge that connects Matamoros to Brownsville. Many asylum seekers camp out in Matamoros for months awaiting their day in immigration court.

They’re forced to wait there because of the Trump Administration’s  Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP. After months of waiting, Yulisa’s court date finally arrived. It was scheduled at a tent facility in Brownsville. 

One of the reasons Yulisa said she left her home county is because she was having problems with her partner, the father of her child. 

“He found out that I’m here in Mexico and I worry that he’ll come here and find me. I’m not sure what would happen. He could kidnap me, I don’t know,” she said.

Yulisa said she doesn’t feel safe waiting in Mexico, but also doesn’t think things will go her way in court.

“There have already been several pregnant women who have tried to enter — and instead of helping — they gave them a longer court date so that their babies would be born in Mexico,” she said. “They don’t want them born in the U.S.”

Yulisa was required to be at international bridge at 4 a.m. for her hearing. 

“I woke up at 2:30, but I was awake almost all night. I couldn’t go to sleep,” she said. 

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer lined up asylum seekers based on the scheduled time of their hearings. Yulisa was at the front of the line. She and more than 20 others walked towards the U.S. side of the bridge and were escorted to a gated area.

She had to wait about four hours for her hearing to begin — and when it did — it only lasted 10 minutes.

It took place in a tented courtroom right next to the International Bridge. She and her attorney sat in front of a television screen where a judge teleconferenced in from Harlingen about 30 minutes away.

The hearings are closed to the public, but those who want to witness them may do so on the Harlingen side where the judge is.

When the hearing began, the judge asked basic questions, like what Yulisa’s name is and what type of protection she’s seeking. Then, he scheduled her next hearing to take place in November.

But before the next case is called, Yulisa’s attorney Jodi Goodwin asked the judge for something the federal government has rejected twice in recent weeks: Can Yulisa stay in the U.S. until her next court hearing because of dangerous conditions in Mexico?

The judge said an immigration official would look into it and have an answer by the end of the day. At around noon, Goodwin gets surprising news.

“She can continue her court proceedings here in the United States. She’ll no longer be in danger in Mexico,” Goodwin said.

She further explained the Mexican government refused to receive Yulisa back into Mexico because of her late term pregnancy. 

“I want to stress that that was not any change on the part of the U.S. government,” Goodwin said. “It was a humanitarian action and change on the part of the Mexican government to recognize the particular danger that late term pregnancy causes not only for the moms, but also for the unborn children.”

TPR has not yet independently confirmed the ruling — or if it sets precedent — from the U.S. or Mexican government. Calls and emails to Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security and Mexico’s National Institute of Migration all went unanswered.

As for Yulisa, she’s happy with the outcome. She said she is grateful for the help Goodwin provided.

Yulisa will stay with a relative in Utah until her next hearing. Her baby is due any day.