Chris Gelardi


‘I Wanted to Die’: How Pregnant Women Suffer in ICE Detention

Read the full piece in Vice

Co-reported with Yemile Bucay

WHEN JENNYE PAGOADA LOPEZ crossed into the United States, she was four months into a high-risk pregnancy, she says. The 32-year-old Honduran suffers from a blood disease called antiphospholipid syndrome, which puts her at risk for blood clots and strokes, and which she believes was responsible for her two previous miscarriages and the premature births of both of her children.

Pagoada crossed into San Ysidro, California on Sunday, July 23, accompanied by Luis Guerra, her legal representative from the United Farm Workers Foundation. She was seeking asylum after fleeing members of the Barrio 18 gang who had killed her relatives—first as a child in her native Honduras, then in El Salvador, where she originally sought safety. When she turned herself into US Border Patrol that Sunday, Pagoada says she told agents about her pregnancy and turned over medical records, including an ultrasound she had gotten a few weeks prior.

While she was being held overnight at the Customs and Border Protection processing center in San Ysidro, Pagoada claims that she began to experience intense pain in her abdomen and heavy vaginal bleeding. Speaking on the phone from a detention center, she told Broadly that, despite her efforts to stem the blood flow with toilet paper, she bled through her pants, making the children in her holding cell cry.

She claims that she asked for medical attention multiple times, but her requests were ignored by agents, who told her that there were no doctors available. (In an email to Broadly, a CBP spokesperson acknowledged that Pagoada had informed officers that she was pregnant, but insisted that there was “no evidence to indicate Ms. Pagoada requested medical attention or appeared to be in need of medical attention at any time during her temporary detention by CBP.”)

The next day—Monday, July 24—Pagoada was transferred to Otay Mesa Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in San Diego operated by CoreCivic, a publicly traded, for-profit corporation. That first week in Otay Mesa, staff from ICE’s Health Service Corps gave Pagoada urine and blood pregnancy tests as part of a routine series of medical exams. They told her immediately that the urine test was negative, which confused her. Pagoada knew that she was pregnant, she asserts: Only a few days earlier, on July 20, she had visited a doctor in Tijuana, Mexico, who prescribed her prenatal vitamins, folic acid, Tylenol, and an electrolyte-rich drink.

“I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my baby, and I didn’t know why God had done that to me. I wanted to die.”

Then, on July 29—less than a week after she was transferred into ICE’s custody and given the pregnancy test ICE claims was negative—Pagoada claims that she went to see medical staff to get the results of her blood test, and that during that appointment, they told her that she had miscarried. “The doctor told me that she was so sorry for my loss, that she wished there was something she could have done, and that she didn’t know how this happened,” Pagoada told Broadly. Immediately after the appointment, Pagoada relayed what medical staff had told her to Guerra, and she testified to the same under oath a month later to an immigration officer during an asylum interview.

“I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my baby, and I didn’t know why God had done that to me. I wanted to die,” she said.

In a statement to Broadly, an ICE spokesperson refuted Pagoada’s claims, insisting that she was never pregnant during her time in ICE’s custody. ICE officials maintain that the results of her pregnancy tests were never in question, and that medical staff records indicate that Pagoada was informed again that she was not pregnant during her July 29 appointment.

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