On Thursday, March 29, U.S. officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that the agency was withdrawing an Obama-era policy preventing pregnant women from being detained, unless in the case of mandatory detention or other “extraordinary circumstances”. Officials were quick to emphasize that they were only ending “‘the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees’”, and that cases for pregnant illegal immigrants would continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis. But there is no longer a guarantee that pregnancy would be sufficient to set a detained individual free. This new shift in policy comes as a result of President Trump’s executive order of January 2017 on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, which called for immigration officers to crack down on detaining and deporting any and all illegal immigrants in the country.
Both immigration and human rights activists have expressed concern that this will lead to an increase in the amount of detained pregnant women, despite the agency’s promises to evaluate cases on an individual basis. Philip Miller, a senior executive at ICE, has stated that since the policy was implemented in December he is unaware of an increase in pregnant detainees. He added that there were currently around 35 pregnant women in ICE detention centers, all for reasons of mandatory detention under the law. Furthermore, the agency has promised not to detain women in their third trimester except for “‘extraordinary circumstances’”.
Although ICE has repeatedly ensured that it provides prenatal care and “‘remote access’” to all pregnant detainees, many activists insist that the process of detention for a pregnant woman, particularly if the pregnancy occurred from rape, can be traumatizing. Katie Shepherd from the American Immigration Council expressed concern that “‘detention of this particularly vulnerable population has been linked to serious health implications to the mother and unborn child’”. Other advocate groups have complained that women who had been raped or those who experienced high-risk pregnancies had been harmed as a result of the lack of adequate care at ICE facilities, in some cases to the point of miscarriage. These complaints were in most cases filed before the policy change, and conditions will likely worsen as a result of the Trump administration’s overall approach to immigration.
For more on this:
Maria Sacchetti, Trump administration ends automatic release from immigration detention for pregnant women, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/trump-administration-ends-automatic-release-from-detention-for-pregnant-women/2018/03/29/8b6b1bc0-3365-11e8-8abc-22a366b72f2d_story.html?utm_term=.7f8ecd4c86d6
Abigail Abrams, Ice Will Now Detain Pregnant Women Because of President Trump’s Executive Order, http://time.com/5221737/ice-detain-pregnant-immigrants-donald-trump/
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FAQs: Identification and Monitoring of Pregnant Detainees, https://www.ice.gov/faqs-identification-and-monitoring-pregnant-detainees