Immigration-Premature Baby
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FILE — In this Saturday, June 23, 2018, file photo, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent walks between vehicles outside the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. Advocates were shocked to find an underage mom and her tiny, premature newborn daughter huddled in a Border Patrol facility the second week of June 2019, in what they say was another example of the poor treatment immigrant families receive after crossing the border. The mother is a Guatemalan teen who crossed the border without a parent and was held at a facility in McAllen, Texas, with other families with children. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

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MCALLEN, Texas • The teenage girl with pigtail braids was hunched over in a wheelchair and holding a bunched sweatshirt when an immigrant advocate met her at a crowded Border Patrol facility in Texas.

She opened the sweatshirt and the advocate gasped. It was a tiny baby, born premature, being held in detention instead of where she believes she should have been — a hospital neonatal unit.

“You look at this baby and there is no question that this baby should be in a tube with a heart monitor,” said Hope Frye, a volunteer with an immigrant advocacy group who travels the country visiting immigration facilities with children to make sure they comply with federal guidelines.

Frye and other advocates say the case highlights the poor conditions immigrants are held in after crossing the border at a time when the government is dealing with an unprecedented number of families and children who are arriving each day.

She says the mother, a 17-year-old from Guatemala, had an emergency cesarean section in Mexico in early May and crossed the border with the baby June 4.

She was in a wheelchair in extreme pain when legal advocates found her this week. The girl told advocates she had crossed the border through the Rio Grande River but needed people to carry her, and also needed assistance getting into a Border Patrol car when she was apprehended.

The mother and daughter were expected to be transferred to a privately-run facility for underage immigrants without parents Thursday after outcry on social media.

They were held in an overcrowded McAllen processing facility that holds hundreds of parents and children in large, fenced-in areas.

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