Immigration officials doubled down Tuesday on their assertion that a mother arrested in the Mississippi raids earlier this month is not breastfeeding.
Later, they announced a federal grand jury had indicted Maria Domingo-Garcia on felony counts related to using another person’s Social Security number.
Her legal team wasn’t immediately available for comment, but Domingo-Garcia’s lawyers and her family earlier Tuesday disputed ICE’s contention she was not breastfeeding. They maintain she is still suffering from the pain of being separated from her daughter.
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. She also has 3- and 11-year-old sons.
Previously, authorities said Domingo-Garcia was asked during processing if she was breastfeeding and she replied that she was not. Her attorneys say she was never asked the question and that she told authorities she had a 4-month-old.
Mother to be handed over to US Marshals
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 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.
It was not clear whether the mother could have stopped lactating while detained, as experts tell CNN the time period depends on several variables, including how long a woman has been breastfeeding, how frequently she breastfeeds, how often she uses formula, along with stress, lack of sleep, medications she’s taking and other health factors. The weaning process typically takes 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.”
It’s unclear when she will be reunited with her daughter following news of the federal indictment. Court documents allege that in September 2017 Domingo-Garcia used someone else’s Social Security card in Mississippi as evidence she could stay or work in the country. A second felony count accuses her of using another person’s Social Security number to gain something of value, the documents say.
She will be handed over to the US Marshals Service to await federal trial, Cox said. Her husband told CNN the family fears she’ll deported and his wife worries she’ll be separated from her children.
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.”
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.
Father struggling, reverend says
Maria Domingo-Garcia left for work 12 days ago, and she hasn’t been home.
Her lawyers and her husband have been calling for her release on the grounds that she is still breastfeeding.
When a woman is breastfeeding, her body continues to produce milk that needs to be expressed or it can cause pain and swelling.
Her husband, who asked for anonymity because he’s also an undocumented immigrant, said Domingo-Garcia calls him every day crying.
“I don’t know how to explain how we feel day after day,” he told CNN.
Their infant daughter hasn’t been doing well, either, he said. She cries most of the night and has a small rash, the father said.
“She takes the formula, but it’s not the same. Breast milk can’t be replaced,” he said.
He worries how the time away from their mother will affect the children.
“That is the great fear that I have – and that she’s deported. I tell her I don’t want to see her away from the family,” he said
The husband is a garderner, Mena said, and church members have been taking care of the kids while he’s at work, Mena said.
‘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,” said Ybarra Maldonado. “She said nobody’s asked her – not even one time – if she’s been breastfeeding.”
Manzanarez added Domingo-Garcia told her that detention center staff has asked her only if she has a 4-month-old daughter, to which she replied “yes.”
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.
CNN’s Hollie Silverman, Nadia Kounang and Wayne Drash contributed to this report.