Immigration officials doubled down Tuesday on their assertion that a mother arrested in the Mississippi raids earlier this month is not breastfeeding.
The family and attorney of Maria Domingo-Garcia dispute ICE’s contention and maintain she is still suffering from the pain of being separated from her breastfeeding daughter. Previously, authorities said Domingo-Garcia was asked during processing if she was breastfeeding and she replied that she was not. Her attorneys have repeatedly said she was never asked the question but that she told authorities she had a 4-month-old.
On Tuesday, Bryan Cox, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said immigration officials did not learn of Domingo-Garcia’s claim she was breastfeeding an infant daughter until they read it in a news report about a week after she was detained in the raids that yielded the arrests of 680 undocumented immigrants.
A nurse practitioner later examined the woman, Cox said, and determined she was not lactating.
Domingo-Garcia was breastfeeding her daughter to put her to sleep every night, up until she was detained August 7, her attorney, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, told CNN.
It was not clear whether the mother could have stopped lactating while detained, as experts say the time period depends on several variables, including how long a woman has been breastfeeding, how frequently she breastfeed, how often she uses formula, stress, lack of sleep, medications the mother is taking and other health factors. The weaning process typically takes several weeks, and in extreme cases, up to six months, experts say.
Ybarra Maldonado said neither he nor any lawyer from his firm was present for the medical exam ICE says it conducted. The first he learned of it was when CNN called seeking comment. ICE never reached out to him before releasing the result of the exam, he said.
“I don’t know why they’re going through great lengths to say she’s a liar instead of releasing her,” the lawyer said. “If during a test she didn’t produce milk, perhaps it’s because she’s been detained for twelve days and going through a horrible situation.”
Details of exam unclear
CNN requested details of the exact day the ICE nurse saw Domingo-Garcia and how the lactation exam was conducted, but Cox did not immediately provide the information, saying only the exam was conducted this week. He did, however, address Domingo-Garcia’s claims that his agency is being dishonest.
“I’m aware her attorney responded yesterday by simply accusing this agency of lying,” Cox wrote in a Tuesday email, “which is absurd as nearly half of the persons arrested were released within 24 hours and (32) persons were not even processed due to the identification of significant humanitarian concerns.”
“Any suggestion that ICE does not give significant consideration to humanitarian factors when making arrest and custody determinations would be a patently false claim.”
Detainees undergo medical, dental and mental health screening within 12 hours of their arrival at a detention facility, ICE says, and it was during this period that Domingo-Garcia allegedly said she was not breastfeeding. She also said her youngest child was 3, Cox said in an email.
“Pursuant to subsequent media reports that falsely alleged Ms. Domingo-Garcia was being detained despite being a nursing mother, an ICE Health Services Corps nurse practitioner conducted an additional medical examination of Ms. Domingo-Garcia, which verified she is not lactating.”
Father struggling, reverend says
Domingo-Garcia, who was born in Mexico and has lived in the United States for 11 years, is being held at a facility in Jena, Louisiana, nearly 200 miles from the Morton, Mississippi, food processing plant where she was detained.
Her lawyers and her husband have been calling for her release on the grounds that she is still breastfeeding.
When a woman is breastfeeding, experts say, her body continues to produce milk that needs to be expressed or it can cause pain and swelling.
The Rev. Roberto Mena of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Forest, Mississippi, who has been working with the family, told CNN on Tuesday that within the first couple of days of detention, Domingo-Garcia asked authorities to deliver her breast milk to her baby, which they rejected.
In a video posted online by The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, Domingo-Garcia’s husband tried to bottle-feed a crying infant as he explained that he has friends in the area but no family to help care for the children.
He has been trying to take the kids’ minds off the situation, he told the newspaper.
“They go to the park and relax so they will not feel the absence of the mom,” Mena said, interpreting for the father. “He has another boy who also goes to school, so every time he comes from school he asks, ‘What is the situation of the mom?'”
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Mena said the father works as a gardener, and church members take care of the kids while he’s working.
‘I want my mom back home’
Attorneys Ybarra Maldonado and Juliana Manzanarez say the mother is devastated and insist that she was never asked if she was breastfeeding.
“ICE is, once again, lying,” Ybarra Maldonado said Monday. “She said nobody’s asked her — not even one time — if she’s been breastfeeding. … Can you imagine having a 4-month-old baby and being ripped away from that baby, unsure of who is taking care of her?”
Manzanarez added Domingo-Garcia told her that detention center staff asked her only if she had a 4-month-old daughter, to which she replied “yes.”
Domingo-Garcia also has two sons, 3 and 11, who are American citizens, the attorneys said.
The 3-year-old doesn’t really understand what’s happening but knows his mother isn’t there, while the 11-year-old knows and understands why his mother is gone, Manzanarez said.
“He’s like, ‘I want my mom back home. I don’t understand why they’re keeping here,’ and, ‘She didn’t do anything wrong. We need her here,'” Manzanarez said.
Manzanarez visited Domingo-Garcia on Saturday and says the mother is feeling the effects of having to suddenly stop breastfeeding.
“She is still really depressed. She is in a lot of pain because of not being able to pump or breastfeed,” Manzanarez said.