The following piece is a letter to the editor published in Samoa News which raises questions about the handling of a case involving a woman from Samoa and her new born baby. Written by Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, it is reprinted here in full:
I was approached and informed of an 8-month pregnant young lady from Apia who had been detained by the Immigration Office and kept isolated in the Territorial Correction Facility, who three weeks after her detainment, on 1/26/2017, delivered a healthy baby at LBJ Hospital, and was then returned to T.C.F. under seclusion.
She has been forbidden visitors and her infant was handed over to another family. 2/3/2017: According to the single mother the last time she saw her baby was 4 days ago.
The boyfriend’s family that is caring for the baby has difficulty seeking transportation. It is a hardship to bring the baby 4 times a day to be breastfed. The single mother understands why she is detained but doesn’t understand why she is separated from her newborn baby.
She doesn’t understand why it is taking Immigration so long to expedite her situation so she can reunite with her newborn. She doesn’t understand the painful changes in her body or the grief and mental state she is experiencing. Her crime is she’s an “overstayer”.
The mother is a young single foreigner brought in for domestic elderly service from Western Samoa in 2010. After the elder passed away in 2013, the sponsor and her family moved to the U.S.
Her ID expired on Dec.16, 2016. According to an Immigration officer, they brought the pregnant female in and were instructed by their supervisor to have her detained in T.C.F. pending her hearing and disposition.
My concerns are for the young mother and her 1-week-old newborn. It has been 4 days since the mother breast fed her infant. The Immigration Office has placed this mother and infant at high risk by keeping them under the radar.
They are deprived of services that all mothers and infants are entitled too, and as far as the single mother knows, there is no birth certificate issued for her baby.
Incarcerating a young mother and separating her from her infant; from the protection, love and warmth only a mother can provide is inhumane and cruel. There was no consideration or even human rights given for this helpless newborn. This infant was born while in custody and should be considered a ward of the state and is entitled to all services available for its survival.
Why were other options not explored to remove the mother from T.C.F. and have both her and her newborn safely united under the protection of the D.H.S.S. Shelter, rather then separating them?
This tiny newborn is forced to be exposed to an unhealthy environment and all its conditions, just to receive her breast feedings in a high-risk cell in the T.C.F..
I question the irresponsible treatment of pregnant or newly delivered immigrants and what their ‘born Naturalized or undocumented’ infants are being forced to endure.
This is a mother battling anxiety, fears and depression being kept in a cell until the Immigration’s investigating team decides to press her case before the Immigration Board. Being that D.H.S.S., C.P.S., or Public Health were not contacted for continuous care for this single mother and infant, these are ripe conditions to have this infant disappear — (human trafficking)? The mother is at the mercy of an irresponsible sponsor whose abandonment of this young lady is the root of all these issues.
I feel she is a victim of circumstances that are being exploited by the Immigration Department. This entire secretive scenario smells and appears of exploitation with an opportunity to traffic the infant if presented. It’s more ridiculous if there are no policies & procedures in place, and whoever the Immigration officer is calling the shots, he or she has exposed A.S.G. to major liabilities and public scrutiny for reckless decision making.
• Why was this single mother detained and separated from her newborn?
• Where is the LBJ-Hospital Social Services involvement with the discharge planning for a detained mother and a newborn infant?
• Why was the Department of Human and Social Services not informed, where a secured shelter and counseling is available?
• Why was Public Health not involved, as they would provide Maternal Health and infant care to include C.D.C. investigations etc.?
• This single mother or newborn have not received any medication or medical followup.
• Due to her immigration status and immaturity, she is deprived from making any informed decisions to safe guard herself or her newborn. So yes this victim and her newborn have been deprived of all services they are entitled to get. The tender infant’s survival is endangered due to lack of continuous proper nourishment and exposure, because the Immigration Office/Investigation department kept this case under the lid. Just a note* undocumented babies are high priced commodities pending the in-house broker. While waiting for the Immigration Board’s disposition on this victim, these services should have been provided. I would like to thank the following collaborating agencies for their immediate responses, on Friday, 2/3/2017:
1. Director of Catholic Social Services, who visited, assessed and walked referrals to the Public Health- Maternal Health Dept. The director also began transporting baby for feedings and providing personal needs.
2. Child Protective Services, which also quickly responded and communicated with the Immigration Office and sent a team to the newborn’s location and to the detained mother in T.C.F.
3. Thank you especially to the frightened young single mother and friend for reaching out for help.
Advocates do not look for “WHAT WE OR THE GOVERNMENT CAN GET” for helping a victim in need; as articulated by House Rep. Fatulegae’e Mauga during the House confirmation hearing of the Attorney General, against a Filipino survivor (as reported by Samoa News last week). Advocates and many good people in the community look at “HOW CAN WE HELP” — in the name of justice. THESE ARE VICTIMS!
Ipu Avegalio Lefiti