EL PASO, Texas -- A pregnant woman from Honduras held in an immigration detention center said she was shackled and put on a plane from San Diego to El Paso just days before giving birth.
Border Patrol agents picked her up after she crossed the border illegally.
“I told them I was pregnant, and they didn’t believe me,” said the woman, 33, of agents at a detention cetner. She does not to be identified because she does not want her family to know how she got pregnant.
“They abused me,” she said of the men who repeatedly raped her in a Mexican border town.
She said they kidnapped her off the street and demanded she give them the phone numbers of relatives in the U.S. who could pay a ransom.
The woman said she was on her way to Houston to find work because she's raising four daughters on her own.
She said she was held captive for three months in a small room and used the water in the toilet tank bathe and wash her clothes.
She said she escaped by climbing out of a small window thanks to a woman in the neighborhood who her heard her cries for help
She fled across the border to Calexico but “within 45 minutes they caught us,” she said of the Border Patrol.
“I told her I was pregnant and that I didn’t feel well,” the woman said referring to an agent in San Diego But she said the agent t “looked at me and said a doctor is only called for medical emergencies. Not something like this.”
The Honduran woman said she told the agent who picked her up at the airport that her left ankle was bleeding and he removed the shackles and made sure she got medical attention.
At the detention center she said she told agents again that she was pregnant. “They didn’t believe me” she said . But after a pregnancy test came back positive, she said she was given vitamins and extra food, and medical attention.
Agency guidelines outlined in a 2011 memo recommend releasing pregnant or nursing women rather than holding them in detention unless they pose a safety risk, have a criminal record, belong to a gang or repeatedly violate immigration laws.
“Here’s a woman who poses absolute zero risk to our security, to our country. No criminal background, nothing. When she’s detained, she’s shackled,” said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter in El Paso.
The Honduran woman said she this was the first time she crossed the border illegally.
Garcia heard about her experience when she came to the shelter.
“Eight and a half months pregnant, and a woman is handcuffed with a chain around her waist, her hands, her feet. We don’t need to do that,” said Garcia.
Immigration officers brought her to the shelter. She has to check in regularly while immigration authorities consider her case.
“Nine days after she was released and came to one of our houses, she gave birth to her daughter,” said Garcia.
The Honduran woman said she spent about a week in detention and during that time met two other women from Central America who were also pregnant.
Garcia said immigration authorities work with shelters to help immigrants who are pregnant or ill find a place to stay while they are waiting to find out whether they will be deported.
“We’ve seen many instances when they’ve said, you know, what we don’t want to detain these individuals, and they release them on humanitarian parole,” said Garcia.
“And I think, categorically, that is the correct thing to do.”