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Why Was This Woman Separated from Her Baby?

July 11, 2008

It appears that the answer is that she is an immigrant and the police were overzealous. Tim Chavez posted the following information yesterday:

“…the very worst has been leveled this week against a pregnant woman pulled over, handcuffed and forced to have her baby under custody.

Then, to add insult to this grievous injury, the infant was taken from its mother’s arms as she was taken back to jail.”

According to Tim’s report, Juana Villegas DeLaPaz was pulled over by the Berry Hill police as she was leaving a prenatal clinic with her three children in tow. Although her car was registered, she did not have a current driver’s license. The officer reportedly asked her to call someone to come and drive them all home, but then decided to arrest her. She was handcuffed and taken to jail,

According to an advocate Tim spoke with:

“Its [Metro General Hospital] staff called the father to ask him to pick up the baby. They did this, but couldn’t see the mom because she was sent back to jail. The mom has some type of hearing … (the family doesn’t know if it is for migration or for whatever charges they booked her on.). The mom hasn’t been able to call home. And now the two-day-old baby is without its mother, and who knows what the medical condition of the mother is.”

Tim notes:

“At 3 a.m. today — under the cover of darkness and stain of embarrassment — local legal authorities released Ms. DeLaPaz to return home and tardily nurse her child.”

I don’t care about legal status – I think it’s better for all women, legal immigrants or not, to receive prenatal care than not to – at least to have the option. This event sends a message to the community of immigrant women that there will be no discretion, no compassion, that they risk being jailed, giving birth in custody, and having their baby taken away if they take the simple step of seeking medical care while pregnant.

So what if you think “they shouldn’t be here anyway” – the police had discretion to jail her or not, and they looked at this very pregnant woman and decided to do so. Even if you are one of those that think “The Illegals Are The Devil Damning America,” seriously, are you also pro-life? Do you think all babies should get the best possible start, or just the ones where the mothers are infallible? Can you not look at your own children if you have them and ask yourself if you would have wanted a compassionate system to allow you some time with them in their vulnerable first days? If a non-immigrant woman committed a non-violent crime while 41 weeks pregnant, would you advocate for her not to be allowed any time with her newborn? How about if I pulled your wife over for driving without a license, and just suspected that she might be part of another crime?

I cannot imagine what it must feel like to give birth and then have your baby whisked away, to be deprived of those early moments, and to not have the choice of seeing or breastfeeding your newborn, providing that early colostrum and its antibodies. We do not know if she would have chosen to do so, but she did not have that option.

This was not a violent crime – this was simply driving without a valid driver’s license, mixed in with some anti-human sentiment. This woman presumably did not pose any immediate threat to society by being allowed to finish her pregnancy outside of a jail cell and spend precious time with her newborn. And yet, she was not allowed this, she was not respected as a human being. Neither was her infant. A jail cell is not an appropriate environment for a woman who must have been *this* close to giving birth, nor is it appropriate if she was taken back to jail before being allowed proper time for recovery and observation.

Further response from the Berry Hill Police Department may be forthcoming today (including more detail on her treatment). Unfortunately, there are instances all over the country in which pregnant women are treated as criminals – when they are jailed instead of offered medical assistance for a drug addiction, when they miscarry and police tip lines get set up to rat them out (for something that isn’t illegal), when imprisoned women give birth with inadequate care and in shackles, when they try to get help for suspicious bleeding during pregnancy but are jailed and miscarry. Please see the National Advocates for Pregnant Women for more discussion of related issues.

Dear everybody: have a little decency, why don’t ya? It might be time to recheck your priorities.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2008 10:19 am

    having their baby taken away if they take the simple step of seeking medical care
    Was she pulled over because she was at the prenatal care clinic? It sounded to me like she just happened to be on the way home from there when she got pulled over. I haven’t read why she actually got pulled over.

    I cannot imagine what it must feel like to give birth and then have your baby whisked away,
    Not to downplay the tragedy of this, but that sounds like a typical post Caesarean birth. Obviously this lady experienced worse because most women get the opportunity to see their babies as soon as they recover, but our twins actually met all four of their grandparents before they met their mother.

  2. July 11, 2008 10:28 am

    W, thanks for commenting – I’m hoping to get some more information on it today, but as far as I know she was pulled over outside the clinic, but I’m not entirely clear yet on why. Regardless, if I were pregnant but had some issue with my immigration status, license, or other legality, it would make me more hesitant to get in the car and go get care, and increase the peril of doing so.

    And yes, I do think the two situations are different (as I think you do, too), but that there are a lot of ways we could probably do better for pregnant women and new moms.

  3. July 12, 2008 12:45 pm

    Breaks my heart. I am going to try to get involved in more humane, attachment based, woman and baby centered care for women giving birth in custody. I want to do a rotation at a prison if it can be the women’s prison. I also am trying to do an ob/gyn residency at the place where local incarcerated women deliver.

  4. Lilia permalink
    July 14, 2008 1:15 pm

    “So what if you think “they shouldn’t be here anyway” … Even if you are one of those that think “The Illegals Are The Devil Damning America”

    Well the fact is they SHOULDN’T be here. I hate how all sites reporting this are just saying “an immigrant woman” and not “illegal immigrant.” It’s because they know they’d lose sympathy if they said that, and there’s a good reason.

    “Do you think all babies should get the best possible start, or just the ones where the mothers are infallible?”

    No, I don’t think that, that baby shouldn’t be “starting” here at all.

    You people just don’t get it, all you who are fine with illegal immigration. It’s because you’ve never actually experienced it. I’m a liberal and a feminist but I know what these people are actually like. I’ve lived in Arizona (and I’m not talking about Scotsdale where all the rich people are) but Phoenix, Tombstone (right near the border), and Tucson. People in Tombstone keep guns because of all the problems they have with people coming over the border there, breaking in to houses. I lived in the ghetto with all the illegal immigrants. They have a million children (and start at about 16) and because of this they travel in packs (live in packs too), they all crowd together so you can’t get by, and they don’t have the decency to move out of the way. You can’t say “excuse me” because either they don’t understand what you’re saying or they don’t care. They always talk about how much they LOVE their country and their Mexican pride, but refuse to live there. Not only do they refuse to live there, they refuse to even attempt to come here legally. For those who say they try to learn English I’ve gone to school with illegal immigrants and I’m here to tell you they make very little effort. They ignore the teachers and just go talking in Spanish with the other Mexicans. About 80% of the kids were Mexican and those that weren’t illegal themselves had parents that were. I’ve gone to school with them and have seen the fights, the police officers around to stop the fights, I was tortured all through school. A bunch of Mexicans even hunted down and beat up a couple of special need kids, and they lost their shoes when they tried to get away and they dragged them back. I lived across the street where some illegal immigrants shot some kids in the head and stomach outside of the Best Buy. So don’t say that these people deserve to be here, pregnant or not they don’t deserve anything when there are other people like my mother and I can’t get the help we need because the illegal immigrants know how to “work the system” ILLEGALLY too.

    And if you say “not all Mexicans are like this” than you’re just naive. Of course not all Mexicans are like that, not everyone of any race is exactly the same, but ILLEGAL immigrants, the majority, yes. They all live in the poor areas acting like gangsters. If people don’t believe me go live in the ghetto in Phoenix for a couple of months. If you think I’m racist go to the junior high and high schools there.

    Now these illegal immigrants are spreading out everywhere over the country. I went from Phoenix back to Pittsburgh where I grew up, and the area I grew up is turning from a black ghetto into a Mexican one, their loud music playing from every corner, they’re crawling all over the place.

    Don’t talk to me about the long suffering Mexicans. You don’t know ANYTHING about the illegal immigrants.

  5. July 14, 2008 1:22 pm

    Lilia, then what do you think should happen when a woman who is in jail goes to the hospital to give birth? Does shackling a woman to a bed and refusing her basic human dignity do anything at all to remedy any of the “problems” you’ve mentioned?

  6. Luci-Kali permalink
    July 14, 2008 3:52 pm

    I’m a liberal and a feminist but I know what these people are actually like.

    It’s interesting to see how most of those “these people” posts start off with a disclaimer.

    Lilla, you don’t know what “those people” are actually like. I say this and can say this, because I know how it is, from both professional and personal levels. You can’t come in here and assume that people do not know. You can’t also come here and post something chock filled with inaccurancies, misunderstanding of how the US immigration system works, lack of understanding of the situation of a person’s country, and privileged biases, in which you reduce people to mere animals with your “crawling” statement.

    Please, we don’t need this here. This is a discussion of how a woman’s basic human rights and dignity, regardless of her status, were violated. If you can’t see that, then I don’t know how you can even claim to be a feminist.

  7. July 14, 2008 4:18 pm

    Luci-Kali, thank you. Excellent comment.

  8. Just another male permalink
    July 16, 2008 8:01 am

    If Juana is an illegal alien, and an adult, she has set an irresponsible course by coming to America. Now she compounds it by getting pregnant and bringing a child into her unstable situation. I agree that she shouldn’t be separated from an infant child over a traffic violation, but she had choices, and she chose to drive without a license. All choices have consequences, obviously she never thought about hers, and the potential negative conclusions to those choices.
    I’m sure she can be a good mother in her native land, and when the child turns into an adult, he or she can file a petition to legally immigrate Juana. That is what an “anchor baby” brings to us Americans.

  9. July 16, 2008 8:07 am

    And those acting on behalf of the system had choices about whether to treat a human being like a human being or not, with compassion or without. I fail to see how “not complying with lengthy immigration process” has as its logical consequence “chain you to the bed if you ever give birth.” I think there is an awful lot of “‘those people’ deserve what they get” going around here. we have choices, too – choices about whether all humans deserve a little dignity and compassion.

  10. December 7, 2009 8:22 am

    This is heartbreaking, family leave there county for a reason, for a better future fopr the new born or family to be, this is not right, how could day and why should they treat a person like this, a new born baby needs its mum. its so sad, i hope things like this get fixed up soon.

  11. val thurton permalink
    February 15, 2010 1:44 pm

    my daugther is 19yrs she been in jail she is about 7 month pregant this is her first baby she been stress the whole time the DA was trying to give her 3yrs for a first time non violance drug felony, she is waiting sentance. Recently she took her GED test and was so happy looking forward to come out of jail and take care of her baby and start collage and the next day the immigration visit her in jail she been in the US since she was 10yrs old now they want to send her back to her native land my daugther have her green care this is the first time she ever get in trouble am so afriad that she may die or go crazy I dont know what to do.

    • February 15, 2010 2:06 pm

      Val, I’m sorry you’re in a stressful situation and I’m afraid I don’t have much expertise in that area. I wonder if you have a local immigrant/refuge assistance group that might be able to provide some advice?


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