EL PASO, Texas - A local teen has one very small reason to be thankful this holiday season. The 17-year-old U.S. citizen gave birth to a premature baby boy at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry on Thanksgiving Day, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers helped deliver him.
The teen wasn't due for more than two months. But when she walked from Mexico to the international crossing around 5 a.m. Thursday with the baby's father and asked officers to call an ambulance, they soon realized the baby wasn't waiting that long.
"We were all wanting to help," said officer Maria Rodriguez. "We didn't know how."
There's not always time to consult Wikipedia or download an app, but at least they had turn-by-turn voice guidance.
"The supervisor called EMS, and they were giving us instructions on what to do or how to assist her," Rodriguez said.
Customs said El Paso sees about 30,000 vehicles and 15,000 pedestrians cross every day at its four entry ports. Something like this happens once a year.
"Many of our officers are former EMTs as well as medics in the military," said Ruben Jauregui, of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "So they're really great. They come in, their expertise kicks in, and they get right into action."
Officers knew to bring blankets and jackets to comfort the mother. But for Rodriguez and Eduardo Gonzalez, Thursday was anything but routine.
"At first I thought, 'Yeah, you know, I've seen women say that before there at work,'" Gonzalez said. "And then the ambulance shows up and takes them away, and they have the baby at the hospital."
When the teen and the baby's father entered the pedestrian facility, officers processed them and tried to get them to a private place. But within three minutes of arriving, the teen was ready to give birth. So she delivered the child on the tile floor at the end of the lane markers. Officers used her sweatpants lace to tie off the umbilical cord.
"Tried to do the best we could with what we had," Gonzalez said.
"I knew how fragile the baby was," Rodriguez said.
He was a familiar feeling in Rodriguez' arms. Seven years ago this Thanksgiving, she gave birth to a premature baby boy who didn't make it.
"I gave thanks to God, and I said, 'Thank you, you let me have him for six months in my belly, and it was a good experience,'" Rodriguez said.
"Just to be a part of that life that came into this world, it was just so awesome," Gonzalez said. "I've seen my kids be born and everything, but I'm on the other side of the table there watching. I'm an onlooker. Here we had to kind of get our hands in there and do what the doctors do. And we're not doctors, we don't know what we're doing, but hey, we tried. We tried the best we could."
An ambulance arrived shortly after the birth and took the mom and baby to a local hospital.
Rodriguez now has a 5-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl. She said her son assumes that because she carries a gun, she plays "Cowboys and Indians" at work all day.
She said she's relieved that she'll now be able to explain to him that her job description is slightly more extensive.