Pregnant Asylum Seekers Not Given Priority at Ports of Entry
WESLACO – There are two ways immigrants request asylum -- through a port of entry or after crossing the river and entering the country illegally.
The processing time matters for everyone.
For those who are pregnant, time becomes even more important.
Pedestrians won't see immigrants at the middle of the Gateway International Bridge anymore.
Some are in a kind of makeshift waiting room -- not the sort of place you'd expect to find people.
It's an area on the Mexican side of the bridge.
Immigrants huddle under mountains of blankets sleeping on cots, some even under desks.
That's where one young woman chose to sleep, to keep herself out of the rain and cold.
She's pregnant, but she's not the only one.
"There's three pregnant women here. I don't know what priority we have to be sleeping on the floor, because that's what we're doing," said one pregnant woman from Cuba.
The women are each six to seven months into their pregnancies.
This place is the last step before they will request asylum before U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.
First, their names are put on a list managed by Mexican immigration.
Then, they could be sent to an immigrant shelter like Casa del Migrante to wait until they reach the top of the list.
Going to the shelter right now, is not an option.
We were told the influx of immigrants and cold temperatures means the shelters are full.
So now, they wait on the bridge.
It's a wait that's not meant to last long.
Yasmina, a young pregnant Cuban, said, "When they bring us here from the immigrant shelter it's because we're going to be a maximum of two days or so."
Something happened here, though.
The women moved to this bridge in Matamoros, some time ago.
Two have waited here for about a week - another for 23 days.
Over at the Hidalgo-Reynosa Bridge, a media tour was held last week.
CBP said then, they give expedited processing to children and the elderly.
We asked about priority for pregnant women Tuesday.
They sent a statement that explains they work with limited space. The following is an excerpt:
"The number of inadmissible individuals CBP is able to process varies based upon case complexity, available resources, medical needs, translation requirements, holding/detention space, overall port volume and ongoing enforcement actions."
We asked immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin for insight about the rules for those who are pregnant.
"As far as I know, there is no specific policy in terms of making those individuals a priority," she tells us.
She says emergencies go to the front of the line. She's had some success.
"I think because it involves an issue of life or death, or it involves an issue of serious impairment such as blindness."
The women wait at the bridge, because crossing through the port of entry is what the president declared they should do.
Some continue to cross the river then ask for asylum.
We caught up with a woman we'll call Ana for her safety.
She says she didn't know there was another way to cross.
She's three months pregnant and crossed last week with another pregnant woman; that was before the presidential proclamation.
She says she saw the life and death risks of crossing the river.
"If my brother wouldn't have grabbed her with the help of another immigrant, she would've been swept away in the river. She was five-months pregnant," she said.
She believes she could've avoided that by entering through the bridge.
Once on the U.S. side, Ana was released within a week. She's hoping to see a doctor soon.
We're told of the three women in Matamoros, only one was processed since Sunday.
The Mexican government has emergency services on their side for those who need assistance at the bridge.
We worked with border reporter Oscar Margain to obtain the women's interviews in Mexico.